Pain: It’s Not that Interesting (but You are)

We all have a story and often we are afraid to tell it.  It’s the part of us that doesn’t come up in our social media feeds or in casual conversation.  I get that.  I don’t tell all of mine.  All any of us can do is share what we are comfortable with and hope whoever we trust doesn’t use it to cause pain.  Most of us have already experienced enough of that.

I think I was in college when I first realized that everyone has a story that maybe is a little bit broken.  It was a relief to know that other people had hurt and healed or at least hurt and found hope again.  Not because I didn’t have hope, but I just always hated the thought of being alone, different, and the only one.  And, yet, I think we all feel like that sometimes.

Now, instead of feeling alone, I am sometimes overwhelmed by how much suffering exists in our world.  Betrayal, pain, grief, disappointment, longing, and loss are part of our human experience.

What I realize is that despite life’s mistakes and meandering hurts, the universality of pain diminishes what feels monumental from defining to just one more destination on what we hope will be a long journey.  Maybe that’s why God thought it was so important for his son to live our humanity.  Jesus suffered beyond the comprehensible and yet it wasn’t what defined him.  From conception through infinity that was always love – not loss.

Everyone has a sad story.  We just have different details, characters, and plot twists.  It’s not the pain that makes it unique, it’s the way we find our way out that makes it interesting.  It’s the way we forgive valiantly that is heroic.  It’s the way we choose healing over hate that can inspire others to do the same.  It’s the way we love through loss that we choose life.  And, always, we should choose life.

I love to hear people’s stories but it isn’t their pain that makes them interesting.  A friend who has recently been through a hard time said of her own hardships, “I now think, it really isn’t interesting.  But I am! I’m interesting and I have so much love to give.”

What the heck could I possibly say after that?

As, always, love says it all.

Can you look back at difficult periods of your life and see the blessings that came from them?  If not, my hope is that you will soon.  God is transformative.  Let him write you a new story.  

Read more here: Mercy! Being Mama is Hard

Works of Mercy: Stop the Wreckage

Do you ever just want to tell someone they are messing up?  “Hey, you! There is a train coming towards you at 100 mph and I am thinking you may want to get off the tracks?”  Presumably, we would all say something if someone was in physical danger, but when it comes to spiritual divergence it’s easy to stand idle and watch people get smushed.

Of course, we don’t want to think of it like that because we are good people.  We mean well.  In fact, it is often our meaning well that motivates us to keep quiet when someone is engaging in self-sabotaging behavior – and what’s more self-sabotaging than sin.  We live in a world where the prevailing message is to stay in our own lane, live and let live, and it’s none of our business.  There is an as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else mentality that might not be so absurd if it were possible.  If we all lived in bubbles and our actions didn’t affect or influence others then maybe this idea would float.   Certainly, we can’t decide for others.  We have control over so very little.  In many ways, surrender seems not only like the best option but the only one.

The work of mercy, to admonish sinners, feels heavy and laden with judgment.   The word admonish is strong and clear.  It’s also downright scary.  Who wants to risk a relationship they value by pointing out the devaluing behavior of someone they love?  Who wants to have the hard conversations of correction that no one wants to hear?  Why wouldn’t we all keep quiet instead of blowing some obnoxious whistle of alarm?

My answer to this is to avoid the smushing.  The smushing that can cost people their jobs; the smushing that destroys marriages; the smushing that creates addicts; the smushing that buries someone in debt; the smushing that ruins friendships…the smushing that could have been avoided had someone been brave enough to say something. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.  But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1).

It is important to do this work of mercy gently and in the spirit of love.  No one likes hearing that they are messing up.  No one likes to admit fault or acknowledge that their actions aren’t in line with their values.  This is the hard work of love and one of the most beautiful acts of love we can do for one another.  The people in my life who I am most indebted to, most loyal to, and most grateful for are those who have risked having a hard conversation with me.  They came into my lane, got into my business, and pointed out the risks and consequences that went beyond the bubble of my life.  I know it all sounds terribly dramatic, or at least just terrible.  But when you really think about your own life, you have either been lucky enough to have someone yank you off the track or unfortunate enough that you wished someone had.

Most of us have been in that uncomfortable position of knowing someone is doing something wrong and not sure if they should say something or “mind their own business.”  I certainly can’t tell anyone what to do but I know for me, I have never regretted a hard conversation made out of love and I genuinely feel grateful to those who have guided me.  What about you? Would you say anything?  Would you want anyone to say anything to you?

Read last week’s post: Mercy! Being Mama is Hard

Mercy! Being Mama is Hard

When my children were young, as routine as saying my nightly prayers before bedtime, I would recount all the mistakes I had made with them that day.  Some failings felt so significant that I would measure them in how many extra years of therapy they would require.  While most people worry about saving for retirement, I worried about saving for my children’s counseling copays when they were grown and their mama-messed-me-up issues would manifest like a scary clown face popping out of a Jack-in-the-Box.

Motherhood was hard and it seemed like the harder I tried, the more aware I became of the spaghetti sauce dripping from the kitchen ceiling.  (Truthfully that scarlet drip would have been there regardless of my children because whenever I am in the kitchen catastrophic events occur.)

Now, a mother of teenage boys, I look back on those years and the litany of suffering I subjected myself to and I realize how little I knew God.  I couldn’t show myself any mercy because I had yet to know his.  God was this perfect being who couldn’t possibly understand the trials of being an imperfect parent.  He had never wrestled anyone with an arched back into a car seat or saw the need to abandon the baby’s stroller in the parking lot after realizing it was more likely that he would collapse from frustration than the too-complicated-to-fold buggy.  Of course, Jesus did wrestle demons and I am sure collapsing was a possibility when he endured 40 days without food or water in the desert.  Still, in those early days of motherhood, I relied more on parenting books than our perfect father. Read more

Be You: But Not All About You

We toured colleges with our son last spring.  In every tour, in every talk, we heard a similar spiel: “We want to get to know you — get a sense of who you are.  The best applicants are the ones where students are themselves.”

I hate to be cynical, but all the “just be you” enthusiasm made me skeptical since most of these schools admit like 5 new students a year.  Statistically, it doesn’t seem like being oneself is as important as SAT scores, GPA, or any other metric that funnels the throngs of applicants into a thread of coveted acceptance letters.  Highly competitive schools with high performing applicants humanizing their cut-throat admission policies with a warm, fuzzy, encouragement to simply be oneself, and as surely as the sun rises in the east you will shine.

Of course, we have all heard the same messages in our own lives.  It’s not a bad message either – to just be yourself.  In a day when diversity has become a means of deliverance, individualism has become an art of self-love.  Still, one can only play Mirror, Mirror on the Wall for so long without becoming utterly bored or an utterly boring narcissist.  Loving others has always been where it’s at – where we truly feel full, alive, and connected.  So, yes, be you but don’t be all about you. One of the things I love most about God is he loves unconditionally and universally.  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28).  The world may classify its people into hierarchies, but God has none of that.  He made each of us unique and yet loves all of us the same.  How fun is that?  No competitions or emphasis on what makes you so special.  He eliminated that pettiness when he died on the cross for our sins.  It was the great leveler that gave each individual that has ever been or ever will be the same unequivocal opportunity for redemption.  Of all the world’s laws, treaties, pacts, covenants, and alliances I don’t know any that compares to him dying on the cross so that each and every one of us can have a shot at eternal life.

Read more

The Value of Life: An Unexpected Blessing in the Middle of the Storm

*This post first appeared at Our Sunday Visitor: https://www.osvnews.com/2020/04/20/the-value-of-life-an-unexpected-blessing-in-the-middle-of-the-storm/

As a Floridian, I’m used to the rush and rumble of hurricane season.  Being quarantined feels like a similar drill: gathering supplies, overconsumption of snacks, board games, and boredom.  There is also the obsession with news updates, the what-ifs that cyclone through conversation, fear of the unknown, and the prayers that calm the storm of anxieties within.

The main difference between hunkering down for a hurricane and huddling in our homes for a quarantine is that the hurricane only lasts a few days.  The storm passes and the focus shifts from preparation to recovery.  Being stuck in the purgatory of this virus, not knowing when or if life will return to normal; being isolated from family and friends; having the promise of cherished events broken; the loss of income and freedom, all while the looming fear of losing life centers itself as the eye of the storm, has cataclysmically and almost instantaneously redefined life.

As I have feebly tried to wrap my head around all of it — the world-wide scope, and the dire implications of noncompliance, I am in absolute awe of the measures that have been taken to protect lives.  Could it be that we actually value life after all? For so long, nations have chosen warped notions of freedom by legislating the killing of the unborn; they have confused justice with life-taking judgment through the use of the death penalty; and they have chosen money over the mercies of caring for the poor, neglected, and suffering.  The heroic efforts that are in place to protect and save lives are unprecedented.  The recognition of the value of life is a welcome gift amidst this suffering and sacrifice. It’s a chance to not only redefine life in terms of our routines but to re-root ourselves in the purpose of life by resurrecting God’s command to love our neighbor that for too long has been buried under the debris of sin, selfishness, and self-reliance. Read more

The Search is Over: Finding Love in Him

I was in my car when the 1985 song, “The Search is Over,” by Surrender came on the radio.  I had not heard it in years and for a moment it reminded me of being a 13-year old girl pining over some boy or another who refused to acknowledge my existence in a reasonable way like a bouquet of flowers, box of chocolates, or a boom box blaring a romantic song outside my bedroom window.  (Then I remembered it was my Whitney Houston album I played at such somber times of adolescent angst – not Surrender.)

Lost in thought about those days when I would cocoon myself within my four lavender bedroom walls and lament my imperfect body, wardrobe, and life’s entirety, I had a most random thought of a certain guy.   He was never my crush, or who I fixated on when I drowned myself in pity, or whom I even had a fleeting thought when I sat idly and listened to sad songs about people who once knew love.  I heard the lyrics “The search is over.  You were with me all the while,” and I thought of God.  I was surprised at how my brain went from unrequited teenage infatuation to the essence of total and complete love that is God.

Yet it made sense to me because in the time since record albums were replaced with cassette tapes, and cassette tapes were replaced with CD’s, and CD’s were replaced with music subscriptions, and music itself degraded into some sort of homage to one’s booty — I’ve searched for many things.  I have searched for the perfect man, house, job, couch, school, church, outfit, plant, publisher, vacation, vocation, doctor, and dog.  I have spent so very much time on a search of some sort.  What I found is that none of it compares to my relationship with God.  In all of the searching that so often felt paramount to my satisfaction, to any chance of happiness, all I really needed was what I already had.  An abiding God, who faithfully stood at my side, humoring my distractions, patiently awaiting my many detours, and holding me upright despite wayward falls.  “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Read more

Pro-life: Pro-love

I was subbing for a first-grade class when I received a text message from an unknown number.  It was from a family friend’s college-aged daughter seeking help for her friend considering an abortion.  She knew that I had volunteered at the Women’s Help Center, a pro-life organization that supports women throughout pregnancy, and asked if I would be willing to speak to her friend so that she understood all her options.

Choice.

Of course, I said yes. As implausible as it is to think any of us has the right to terminate life, it is a legal choice in our society.  A choice that is clearly devoid of God who created us out of love and with the innate purpose to love. Taking God out of the miracle of motherhood feels illogical, but there are many who do.  Even biologically speaking, motherhood is the most natural thing in the world.  Not just our bodies’ ability to create life but the innate desire to protect, nurture, and sacrifice for our offspring.  In the animal and the human species, this is the norm, and while it is standard it is also fierce.  Everything else – including our own survival is secondary to the “it’s in our nature to nurture” phenomenon hard-wired in most living things. It hardly seems like a matter of choice.

Being in a room full of six-year-olds is a frenzy of joy.  They are dynamic, unique, curious, and flat-out funny.  They give spontaneous hugs, ask personal questions, listen attentively when a middle-aged woman talks about cats, and without hesitation trust you with their day. They are also complicated like the rest of humanity and will become increasingly so.  Even as an outsider, I can see their proclivities, strengths, struggles, and basic need to be loved and accepted.  They have a keen sense of the world around them.  They are paying attention.  They are fully alive.  Each one a choice.

By the end of that school day, I learned that the woman made an appointment to have an abortion.  She was still agreeable to speak with me and was supposed to call me the next day.  She never did. Her friend explained to me that she didn’t want to be talked out of her decision.  I called the young woman and assured her I was here if she wanted to talk, and would be after her appointment as well.  Not to judge or lecture or to act like a caricature of a pro-life Christian in all the variances of absurdity they are portrayed as – but just to listen.  My heart ached for the burden of choice this young girl carried.  It would sound condescending to say the woman didn’t understand her choice; presumptuous to say abortion will affect her deeply, and Pollyanna to say that if she has her baby it will be full of giddy laughter and flying unicorns, when I know how gut-wrenchingly hard motherhood can be. Everything that can be said can be construed as flippant, dismissive, over-simplified, insensitive, or unrealistic.  All the best words can come out wrong. Read more

Time to Act

During my senior year in high school, I had a small part in the school play, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.  My role was of the scandalous secretary who was presumably having an affair with her boss. I wore a tiny off the shoulder black dress and slung my waist-length hair around with a flick of my wrist while hinting to the more dutiful office employee about my clandestine relations.  That was almost 30 years ago and the only flicking of the wrists I do now is after washing my hands in the kitchen sink when I’m too hurried to use a dishtowel.

Unlike my children’s lives, mine isn’t particularly well-documented so when I came across an old VCR tape of the school play, I thought it would be fun to transfer it to DVD.  The decades-old recording had aged much like the cast of characters it chronicled.  Faces were a blur and I had to rely on sound more than sight to distinguish fellow classmates.  It’s odd to think back that far, at how young we were, how sure we were, and how unsure we were.   Dizzy hopes for the future dangled like a cliffhanger in the drama of our own lives.  One of the boys who had a leading role in the play passed away last year.  His grainy silhouette was punctuated by the boom of his voice.  His animated gestures and rhythmic inflections belied the premature hush that came upon his life.  It made me sad. Read more

Brave: Beyond Rollercoasters and Roaches

My son was on one of those whirling amusement park rides that circled the clouds like a frenzied dog chasing its tail.  Somewhere vertical in the sky he spun so fast that the metal contraption that contained him angled sideways – much like my stomach felt down below.  I could barely stand to watch him, and I fervently prayed he wouldn’t end up with whiplash or vertigo or otherwise be thrust into outer space.  I’ve always been the girl at the park who held the drinks, the jackets, and whatever else the “fun” people couldn’t take on the thrill rides.  I am okay being this girl. I don’t feel even the slightest pang of regret for my union with solid ground.  I hang out with squirmy toddlers in their strollers and watch pigeons as their heads bobble in search of food.

So, I don’t typically think of myself as brave.  That’s a word I associate with the kind of courage it takes to ride a rollercoaster or kill a roach without screaming and spastically throwing shoes. I am not that girl either. I yell for my husband, sons, and even the cats (who look at me in disdain as if I’ve just equated them with some kind of animal).   If no one is nearby, I resort to evacuating.  I figure shelter is overrated and the roach can have my residence.

This year, I aim to be brave.  This doesn’t have anything to do with rollercoasters or roaches, but instead, my relationship with God.  For the last several years, I have focused on surrender. Surrender is one of those words that is easily confused with defeat.  Yet in the battleground for our souls, Read more

Resolution: Every Moment Anew

All of the hoopla of a new year — a new decade can feel overwhelming like the throngs of crowds who enthusiastically greet it in celebration when the clock strikes midnight.  This year I slept right through it.  Partly because it makes more sense to start anew with a proper night’s sleep and mostly because I am just not that into the hype of a new year.  I’m not interested in goal-setting or resolutions or crushing it (whatever “it” may be.)   It’s not because I’m complacent or lack ambition or betterment.  It’s just that for me, resolutions never seem to be the way to affect genuine life change.

By nature, I was always a rules person.  I played by the rules.  I made countless rules.  I was disciplined (and neurotic) enough to think the criteria I set for my life was paramount to achieving success or at least to maintaining order.

Not in the span of a day or even a year, but in incremental shifts and small seemingly insignificant moments, I realized that however well-intentioned my resolutions were, they were feeding a mindset of unworthiness. Instead, I began to consider the threshold of unconditional love that is the basis of Christianity.  I tried to wrap my head around the enormous truth of being loved right where we are and I started to question the motivations that ruled me.  I came to know mercy in a meaningful way.  I didn’t use it as a crutch to allow myself to do whatever I pleased.  It wasn’t an invitation to complacency.  It was motivation to stop putting emphasis on the worldly and pay more attention to the worthwhile.  It was permission to let go of the perfect and find grace in imperfection.   It was possibilities made endless through the merits of forgiveness, the boundless pursuit of compassion, and the insurmountable power of love.

Read more