Choosing to Seek Wholeness

Last night I attended a meeting of friends at church who want to do more, be more, reach out more into our community. We began, as all meetings begin, with introductions, we asked why we each were there, what drew us to become interested in this emerging prison ministry at our predominantly all white highly educated upper middle class church. As each person spoke, I waited for my turn and mustered my courage to share that I was not just a friendly observer but a participant in the prison system, I knew personally the impact of a felony record. I have come far in the last couple of years. The distance, this journey is due in large part by the healing words of one Steve Wiens. I have written  here and here and here about how my friend Janet picked me up, got me out of bed after a severe bout of depression and introduced me to this guy from Minnesota who blogs, has a podcast and was then sending out the first chapters of his first book, Beginnings. He spoke straight into my soul, he breathed the Holy Spirit into me, he told me to try again, that I was more. I now call him my friend, a great honor to be in relationship with him. Friends, he has written a new book and I want you to know and hear and see him! He brings healing to us broken people.

I cannot lie and say I am fully invested in his new book, Whole, because I am still living into Beginnings. I wish I were ready to move on to fresh words and exploring more deeper healing for all my broken places. His words bring that. I may be about a year away from that, I see the richness he offers. I know this guide book is there when I am at that place. Words like, “We actually need to be liberated from the old place to keep ourselves from bringing it along with us to the new place.”  That is scary stuff for me, this letting go and trusting. Am I ready to dive in and accept this journey of wholeness or stay in the exploration of my brokenness a while longer? I feel him pulling me, into a deeper trust relationship with this Jesus guy and I am resisting. The first step is admitting you have a problem, right? Yet I trust Steve, he is laying a path out of the wilderness when I am done wandering, when I am finished whining about manna and my slavery.

Steve writes, “Seeking wholeness is always about leaving one place and going somewhere else. It requires movement. It’s almost always painful, and very often you don’t really know where you’re going until long after you leave.”  I know too from my immersion in his earlier words in Beginnings that I am choosing to be stuck there, maybe I am resting there, in the passing of seasons and the acceptance of new growth and seeds and facing my monsters. Still he offers, “One of the most courageous things you will ever do is to turn away from shame and return to the face of God, where you will find oceans of mercy.” Steve has gently beautifully held me as I have made my turn, propped me up as I courageously accepted my past and spoke my history aloud in that meeting last night, sharing that my passion for prison ministry was personal. With each step, I AM becoming WHOLE, growing into my relationship with God. It is possible his newest book is sneaking into my walk with tiny nudges and whispers of restoration in spite of me.

Friends, are you seeking a new beginning? Are you looking for a path out of the wilderness? Let me introduce you to my friend Steve. He brings wisdom and clarity and peace to these troubled times, but be prepared to have your life altered. He is not content to leave you where he finds you. Don’t we all need friends like that?

Find more about his new book at Whole, his podcasts here, and find him on Facebook, Twitter Instagram or go visit his church like I did. I am telling you, the man is accessible, real, honest and with us on this journey. Wanna get going? Let’s do this!


Double Teamed

There are days when in spite of all of my best efforts, my hearts shows the cracks anyway. Those days when the tears come a bit too freely, when the texts that I usually write and delete get sent instead, when I try one more time. There are days when I get lost in remembering and hoping and wishing and wondering, I forget to stay where I am, I go back to what was. Instead of gratitude for the plates that I do set around the table, I want to put out more. Those days, I wonder why God gave me a love I can’t stop for those who seem able to. I listen to sermons about all those who need me and I try to reach out to the needy but I want to be needed by who I choose also. At least seen by them. I try to strike a bargain with God, if I see those you put in my path, if I love those before me, won’t you please bring the other two back? Those days come and go, when they come, my heart shows the cracks.

Today the world sang the Hallelujah chorus and heard sermons on grace and I wondered if Stella was listening. On any given Sunday I feel convicted by the messages and try to correct my course, always correcting my failures to align more with Jesus. How can we listen to the songs and the words and the greetings as we walk into church in our best clothes and not feel compelled to adjust our behavior and notice how often and how much we have been forgiven? Of all the things I don’t understand about the estrangement phenomenon that is so incredibly prevalent and there are many, is how it can possibly live companionably within the heart of a Christian, that is the greatest. But probably that is true of so many ways in which we hurt each other and then go to see our priest or pastor or preacher each week. I know that no sin is worse than any other, I have been granted grace beyond what I can ever express. That is the very reason my heart just cannot hold on to a hurt, a grudge, a wrong. I know the power of forgiveness and multiple opportunities to get it right. I still get so much wrong. Another Sunday, course correction. Somehow my heart just believed that my daughter would walk into a church today and hear a message and the clouds would lift and the angels would sing and the phone would ring. It is Easter, for God’s sake, the big grace day. Did she listen to a choir sing and not think of giving another chance?

Instead I listened to a sermon about a woman who was estranged from her family and went to see true devastation in Rwanda and then heard God speak to her about not straying away from Him. I thought, Stella and I went to the Killing Fields, we did that. Why are we now estranged? I heard the pastor speak of a family that discovered their child dabbling in illegal substances. They decided to go all in and build an orphanage in a foreign country, a means to reach out and pull themselves back together. My cracked broken heart only heard that I should have built an orphanage when I found the first joint in Arrow’s room. My heart was showing the cracks today.

I was missing the message.  The point is that people mess up and God finds a way to bring them back together, if they stay open and present to His word and His calling.  I am open, I am listening, I am mostly present. Let’s see some results, God. Challenge accepted.  The pastor didn’t talk about the happily ever after part, the immediate appearance of the angel and the chorus. Surely it happened. I just want my angel and my kids and my happily ever now.  See my heart cracks? I was a bit angry in the chair during the sermon,  I really felt I was doing my part and God was just not showing up for His. Bold, right? On Easter no less.

Most days I seal up the cracks with forward movement, planning next steps and answering calls of ministry. I spend time with the ones that God puts in my path and I actively seek out more that need what I have. Putty, spackeling, this stuff restores what is breaking in me and in the world. On good days, that is enough to hold me together. I can keep busy enough that I barely consider what size dress my granddaughter might wear, I barely allow myself to note the calendar inching closer ever closer to her birthday. Then Easter comes and suddenly my hopes are raised, this could be the day that restores us all. Might this be the day that I can stop pretending I am my own devastated wasteland, a family killing field, a place where traditions and laughter have been destroyed by the regime of estrangement?

I listened to a podcast Steve Wiens put out on Holy Week, the episode is called Loss. Had me from the start, sigh. I considered not listening but Steve usually gets me so I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t going to disrupt my cracked and barely holding together heart. I was wrong. He smashed it open, he expanded my grief and I am sitting with a new understanding of my loss. He told me I need to offer grace to myself. He is a crazy man.  I have spend two years now seeking begging pleading for forgiveness from my daughter for all the wrongs I can imagine, plunging into our history for evidence of my rights, searching for an identity that allows me to still be her mother when she just says nothing which somehow means no. I forget that I am worthy of forgiving myself. He shared a story that included the message that yes, of course we messed it all up. Yep. Yep, we do that. Owning that is not the end of the story. What else have we done? Did we try to fix it? Offer grace to ourselves.

This is radical stuff to me, I didn’t see it coming. I still am battling with God that I want restoration with my daughter now, that I have cracked open my heart enough for other people. Maybe though the crack hasn’t widened quite enough to include me. Maybe the voice God is calling me to love in the devastation is not all of His other children but me as well. Maybe the orphanage he wants me to build is a home for this child here, who seeks refuge and safety and a place of belonging. God is so sneaky, sending me a double teaming set of pastors to deliver Easter messages, knowing my cracked heart is turned away, turned toward little dresses on grandchildren in another state that I won’t see today. If that isn’t love, if that isn’t grace, I really don’t know what to tell myself.

So I cry some tears but not many and I remember a bit but don’t get lost there and I make my ham and listen to the chatter of the ones who are here and I make the plates on the table be enough. I know the tomb is empty and the weeping was for that moment when the loss was real.  Then all were restored but it was different and unrecognizable, this new Jesus and our job as believers got so much bigger. We have to deal with the cracks in our hearts, we have to let the loss be felt, and then we find restoration and grace in the One who rose. Not a simple 1,2,3 get it done process, no angels singing and the clouds parting when we get it all right. Because we so very rarely do. Thus the grace. For OURSELVES and others.

My sweet friends, offer yourself a gift today and listen to this podcast This Good Word if you dare and if your heart feels ready for some expansion. Some putty may fall away, you may find yourself listening to the call of God’s voice, saying, “You, you child are the one I want you to love and forgive. Then we can do some big stuff with food pantries and orphanages and classrooms and driving without anger.”  The truth is we are all mistake making messes but I would sit next to you at church any day. Will you sit next to me as well? Can we make some space for grace for ourselves this Easter? I am not trying to team up with your pastor, but personally, I think you are worth it.

Standing in the Tension

After months of therapy, the first time I talked with a professional and began spilling the horrible secrets of the sexual abuse that lasted throughout my childhood, I returned home to have a conversation with my mother. My therapist and I had practiced this, considered what my goals were, what the possible outcomes could be. Still, in my heart I just knew my mom loved me enough to wrap me in her arms and try her best to wash away the hurt. That is really all I wanted. What I got was almost as damaging as the abuse. She told me that because my father was already dead, she couldn’t ask him about it. Conversation done. As if there needed to be two sides, as if I might not be telling the truth. As if my voice didn’t count. I learned then that speaking up was a dangerous risk, one that could damage any relationship, I learned to weigh my need to speak up with the need to be loved. I learned I can’t have both. It took many years to understand that she was not just my mom in this scenario, she played a role in the years of abuse, surely she was feeling her own guilt and to accept my truth meant her complicity was clear. Her feelings must have overwhelmed her ability to be my mom in that moment. Sadly, had she just wrapped me up, I would have forgiven, at least I believe so, all of it. Instead, it laid there between us, my truth and her inaction, to the day she died.

I was 22 when I had that talk with my mother, I still struggle with sharing my truth. Will I be believed? Is sharing it worth risking the relationship I have? What is the point? Yet my soul suffers, I carry the burden of silence. Relationships that aren’t authentic or are based on my participation in wearing a mask are no longer ones I value. I avoid them. So when I am confronted with a situation that violates my own standards of acceptable behavior where I am forced to choose, like everyone, speak up or back away, I hear my mother’s voice and mostly back away.  I have been so blessed to have a husband who hears my truth. As opposite as we are, we have many many opportunities for real talks. We have countless chances for talks that allow me to practice sharing my truth in a safe environment and still come away loved. But what about my wider circle? Outside of my home and into my world?

I have some tough choices to make, I am waffling with each passing hour. I know I need to have a hard conversation and yet the risk just feels too great. Backing away doesn’t feel acceptable either. I imagine someone without my history would charge right in and spill it all, a resolution would be found. I imagine so many things would be different without a history of distrusting myself, believing I have to have the perfect words to convince my audience I am telling the truth. Steve Wiens talks about Monsters in his book “Beginnings” in such a beautiful, transformative way.  My friend Janet with her so talented artsy self created a drawing that I stare at every day using words from the book. It says, “Facing your Monster requires you to stand in an in between place where you abandon your turf and your rules in order to create new space for yourself and others. You need to go where your dragon lives, on the border of its land and yours. You need to remain on that border and do battle. You need to face and hold the tension of that space until your Monster goes down.”  I see my answer in this quote, I see the nudge to stand my ground. Standing there in that tension is better than cowering in a quivering mess, waffling in indecision.

Standing, yes, that seems to be a good first step. Deciding to stand up and be heard, to take the risk, I can hear it in this book that has brought me back into my life, my faith, myself, a better self, the one God has waited for me to become. Do I dare really fight the monster, though? I think if I really trust Steve, and I actually do, and I really trust Janet and I absolutely do, I can hold on to that trust until I fully trust myself. They both have been instrumental in directing my trust unto God. I have to be willing to abandon what I have always known, my rules, that I will not be believed, to create a new space. What would it look like to be a person others trusted? I think I might be already, I certainly have evidence to support that if I truly look. So maybe this is really an opportunity to again quiet those mom memories, the ugly rumor voices, that say I have lied. Maybe it is a chance to free those sounds from my heart and write my own song that will sing louder louder louder as the notes shine light on my 22 year old heart and wrap it in love.

Remaining, that too calls for sticking to my truth, my reality, not giving up when it gets a bit hard or worrying that it may get ugly. Fighting monsters in every story or movie requires some thrashing about, some wreckage. There is in fact some drama. I only like my drama in a good book that I can close if need be. To fight my own personal monster, I can’t dog-ear the page and come back later. Committing to the battle is key. I am growing more so now by the minute. Whisperings of encouragement fill my soul. Is that me or you, God? My friend at church gave me a new mug yesterday, a surprise gift with these words imprinted, “God loves you most” on one side and “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love” from Romans 8:38 on the other. She had no idea that I needed to fill that up with my coffee, hold the warmth in my hands and be encouraged as I drink, letting  truth replace the chill,  filling with hope and love.  Or maybe she did. She is like that. Still, the timing was all God.

I am preparing for battle with my monster but what I know deep down is that my monster isn’t anyone else. It resides solely within me. Slaying it requires that I have this really hard conversation but the monster isn’t the other. The other isn’t inherently bad and I am good. I don’t believe that. Just as bleach and ammonia each have their own strengths alone, mixed together something really toxic is created. This other and I seem to be in a chemical mess where words just wound me so deeply and every attempt to address them is met with more hurt. Still, I see that the this other is not the issue. I can back away from the other but not from not being heard. That is breaking my soul,  that monster is welling up with a ferocity that only with God as my guide, can I slay it.

Today I am facing my monster. I think. If all goes according to plan. It will surely be messy and uncomfortable and most definitely painful. I may even get a few scraps and scratches in the battle. I am beginning though to wonder what it will feel like not to carry this horrid thing around with me anymore. That means I am getting closer to the light.  Are you avoiding that big conversation, that major decision, that change you want to make, out of fear or worry or self-doubt? I have praised Steve’s book over and over and I will only say, if you find yourself in that place, please pick up a copy and know that monster slaying will be possible for you too. I am standing in the tension today.  Warning shot fired, monster, here I come. Can you hear me?

Communion in St. Paul

Broken Vessel

When I arranged my desk I didn’t take into account cats. Previously writing on the porch table kept them at bay, the beasts always on the lookout for something to chase. Weather forced me inside to the dining room table and cats appeared, jumping on my lap and laptop, a nuisance I was accustomed to as my right arm stretched to provide protection and I pecked away with my left hand. I barely noticed the fur in my face while deep in thought, I may have stroked a cat or two but they surely didn’t get rewarded for interfering. But when I set up my office with a smaller writing surface and a space heater to take away the chill, I strategically placed items on my desk to challenge or comfort me. I didn’t consider cats. A thought I was creating my own space, I truly believed my desk was mine and my area was clearly marked as a pet-free zone. I have come to see that just because I didn’t make space doesn’t not translate into space not available. It often takes me awhile to catch up to God’s design.

Swishing tails, slinking bodies, leaping from shelves to my desk, invaders who won’t listen to reason, refuse to be ignored: the cats have found me, know I am captured at my tiny desk. A closed door is an invitation for little paws to scratch and poke underneath, distractions that pull me from my musings unto the meowing. Seeking compromise, I crack the door and place a blanket on the trunk, a warm snuggling place. I moved the climbing tower from upstairs into my office. I am trying to be flexible. Still, they wanted more. They wanted my desk, they wanted me. We are now in full-out battle, the cats are banished. A sweeping tail knocked a treasure off of my desk, a bridge too far. Not just any treasure but pottery Janet made, the clay pot that she created then broke and pieced back together. A piece so incredibly beautiful in design and meaning that I looked at it daily to see the light come through the cracks and knew God. I stashed inside sweet supportive letters I have received as I started my blog, a seed that was planted by Janet and continues to grow fruit as I share my broken places. You can see why I am warring with my cats. My special jar is now shards. The vessel can hold nothing.

I want to find meaning in my destroyed broken pot, to see that even more light is now possible. I want to acknowledge that there are worse problems than pets who search for comfort on my lap. I want to be big enough to expand my world and my heart but if I am honest, I don’t want to open up anymore. I like what I have where I have it. I was comfortable with just that amount of light coming in. Unfortunately I don’t think God is really interested in me being comfortable in my little space, I am being pulled into a new place that feels sharp and promises hurt. I have been watching with the attentiveness of my cats at the back door while the birds flutter to the feeders, noticing all the ways I am being opened up and expanded and called to be more. I prefer my safe place but I am laid bare like the slivers and fragments, the choice already made for me.

I retreat, I snuggle in, I take more naps. I even got angry, really angry a couple of days ago, an unusual reaction from me. A desperate message to Janet just to touch base in the midst of my mad day alerted her to my fury as I announced the day officially a “poop” day where wine would be the reward at the end, if it ever ended. The next day I read in Steve Wien’s book “Beginnings” (which I have raved about unabashedly many times and think everyone should go buy and read) the chapter on Expanse which is the one I will be leading soon in our study group. The pieces all came together as he shared his son’s anger and desire to poop on his brothers. If this is not endorsement enough to grab the book,  I just don’t know how to get you there! I totally got this child’s anger, his frustration, I laughed at my ridiculous response to my day but still, I know I am being stretched to see things I don’t want to see.

The cats broke my vessel, light floods onto the pieces, bounces off of the glaze and shines on my office walls.  I can only imagine how long it took Janet to create her gorgeous works, how brave she was to present them to others. I am a reluctant vessel of God, being called to move precious treasures into the SONshine and allow the Light to pour through. I grew content with the cracks and the beauty of my own clay pot, national events now force me to be broken wide open and face more feelings and words that are less on the joyous end of the spectrum, words that reflect fear and hurt and anger. Just as I thought I was safe from intruders in my little office, I know that even invaders dressed up like cute kittens can cause damage, can wreck what is important to all of us. The world is full of poopiness, full of anger and also rife with opportunities to open our souls to others, allow more light in. We are being called to leave our comfortable places, intruders pushing us to break open our soul vessels to those seeking asylum.

I am broken open to see and feel and hear the more around me, a painful destruction of my soul barriers that promises more angry days ahead. I may want to poop on my day, I may desire more wine, still I think God’s light is shining amidst the darkness as the Son catches the pieces of us all and new art is born. I am not accustomed to sharp edges, I may need some smoothing, God will surely work on that. For now, my desk and soul are more open, I am surround by the Light.


You are Enough

When Janet exposed me to this pastor, a guy who put out amazing podcasts, she started something that has grown so big, so beautiful, it can only be from God. The study we led using this book, “Beginnings” by Steve Wiens has borne more fruit than we could have ever imagined. For me personally, it changed my concept of my purpose, something I had been chasing most of my life. Like my beasts who run after other dogs who walk with their owners just outside of our yard, along the street, forever out of reach, I knew there was something, it felt close, I just couldn’t get there. But I was searching for one thing, the big thing, the thing God had CALLED me to do, knowing if I just listened, if I was just obedient enough, I would know and then my life would all fall right into place. Like my beasts who forget they have plenty of squirrels right in their own yard, I missed out on years of seeing my worth waiting for the BIG GOD CALL. I didn’t realize the gifts that I share everyday were the ones that matter.

The holidays are often taken over with gift giving. This season when we have no funds to join in the rush and bustle of finding the right coffee mug or sweater for everyone we care about, we find ourselves more intentional about what we have to offer. Extra furniture to one child starting out in a new home, cleaning the home for another who is ready to have her second child,  we are showing up. We can give gifts of ourselves this year, we have time and stored up resources. As I do extra laundry for Mama or take inventory in spare bedrooms, I realize my Big God Call has always been just to be present for these kids, to be steady, to be here. I thought I was supposed to be a mom,  that role defined me. When they all left, I was lost and had to discover my more. I am more than a mom, I am still and always will be a mom. The gifts that I bring to motherhood don’t stop with the two that I birthed, the one I have nurtured for the last 7 years. A new generation has entered our home, now as a grandma I have an ever growing number I hope to shared my gifts with. Yet I have come to see fully that blood doesn’t define family, God doesn’t ask me to only mother in our home. The same gifts I use in mothering are the gifts I can use within the world. Listening, caring, nurturing, feeding.

The anxiety of wondering, wishing, feeling left out, like the only person at church who just doesn’t know who they are meant to be, all gone when I stopped looking and just was. The calm, the peace, like the silent night of song, has settled in, allowing acceptance and growth. I have not one gift, not one big call, but I have worth and gifts and calls for seasons. I am asked to show up and give what I have, who I am, on any given day to any given person in front of me. Maybe sometimes I have to seek out the recipients, maybe they knock on my door. Still, I am enough. I am finding ways to feed the many, the hungry, the ones I know and may never know. No longer chasing the big call, the dogs outside the yard, released energy to carry out the work God was asking of me, the squirrels right in my own yard, if you will.

During this season of gift giving, I pray that you see your own worth as a child of God, just as you are. I pray that you know you are gifted in small ways and large, that your very act of showing up means more than anything you could ever purchase. I know that God has called you to breathe in the turbulence of the world and exhale His serenity. His Spirit will transform our presents into Presence, beyond our comprehension. Let go of the need to find the perfect gift, the last minute rush to stores and long lines filled with agitated shoppers. Maybe you have a calling, a direction so clear you can see the lighted path ahead. If not, my friends, I offer you this gift: tranquility in being. Show up, share love, give yourself this year, you are enough. God will light your way.