Linger

The stillness. The calm. The slow pace. Soon to come to an abrupt end. As we prepare to venture back to our schedules, appointments, rituals. The holiday season, having reached its climax, now coming to a close. I can’t help but feel a sadness, a certain grief for this closing. Not yet ready to jump back in. Content with the slowness gifted by the season.

If only we could linger here a bit more. Delay the inevitable and dally in the unhurried. Resist the hustle and learn to be at home in the still. Not captured in demands but captivated by living in the moment. Learning to appreciate the beauty that envelops us each day.

Setting aside the grief my heart is feeling, I acknowledge the abundant gratefulness flowing from the same pain. Grateful for the things this season taught me. Grateful for the chance to step off the path moving too fast. Wishing I could stay just a bit more, but pledging to find ways to cultivate pieces of the season in my everyday. Carving out moments to, just for a short while, demand slowness and linger.

Happy Ending.

Childhood dreams.

A princess saved by the dashing prince. The picturesque, cliched Disney illusion that was, for years, my perceived reality. For decades I cleaved to this flawed fantasy, trying, forcefully to cultivate it from the ashes. Ashes from the remains of each staged phantasm. More and more ashes, as each dream burned and crumbled. Looking back, hind-site being 20/20, it’s imperfection clear, then though? Murky as the mud.

If asked, I would confidential say, I somehow managed to yet get a version of this dream, altered and contorted, but a surmountable upgrade.

Perhaps it was the journey that was different, the path I took to arrive at this destination. Maybe the end delineation that appears altogether different. Evidence for both are represented in the footprints of my past. Cinderella didn’t trample through 3 princes to get to her one true love. She didn’t wade through the quick sand of self-hate or drown in the sea of poor financial decisions. I suppose though, she did however struggle with challenges of her own. The wicked step mother and pet animals that talk, could be considered troublesome. Funny how as a child, these challenges aren’t what we remember of the story. As a child, what sears our memory is the ending. The happy ending. How deceiving the ending is. For the ending muddles the journey.

Abundantly grateful for my unkempt journey, doesn’t grasp the truth of my heart. A journey that, despite its wicked twist and turns, presented me with the ultimate gift of a dream come true. It’s these twist and turns that made the gift of the dream savory and cherished. No matter the bribe, the journey will never be exchanged. It is what lead to my happy ending.

Insecurity, you repugnant acquaintance.

All my life? So melodramatic. Really; only, possibly, since junior High: that is when I was introduced to you. A melting pot full of nihilistic tweens, so gracious to send you my way. At first introduction, clinging yourself to me like the leach whose gruesome characteristics you so easily mimic.

Insecurity.

A black, plump, thriving leach.

You got ahold and vowed; no, pledged your undying allegiance to me for decades. All the while feeding on my pride, my dignity, my self worth.

Prior to our first, fated encounter you see, I was chalk full of all these chattels. From birth, surrounded by people, donors, giving to this supply. Encompassed by a world that inspired, encouraged, and built up. This is why you survived for so long. Why you became such a remarkable size. The nutrients you fed upon, that made you flourish, were illimitable. Sure, you drained me, left me weak, fragile, but I was able to recharge once home. Daily, I received a life saving transfusion. My life support system infallible.

Until it wasn’t. Until I didn’t. Until the transfusions stopped. Until my tank got too low. Until your grip became too tight. Until I was suffocating. Until refills were now left to me. Separated from my sustenance. A journey too bleak to recount. Decades murky and somber. I refuse to draw forth. All that remains important is remembering, recalling, recanting, the price paid to dislodge you, the depth of the wound left behind, and the time unrecoverable in your grasp.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭139:13-17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Weak point.

Y’all! It’s late July in Louisiana. Hot. Muggy. Did I mention hot? Listen, I’m not talking about mildly, uncomfortable heat. The specific heat I am referring to here, is a heat so intense, you would think the devil himself was gonna appear any second. So hot, that your legs, not just stick to the seats, they have seat exteriors melted to them upon standing. Under brassiere sweat before 6 am, kind of hot. I would continue, but I don’t want to make anybody, anymore uncomfortable with these increasingly gross analogies.

Along with this insatiable July heat comes another pleasant bestowal. A wonderful package deal. Stupendous two for one. Glorious BOGO….Hurricane season. Yes folks, heat AND hurricanes. Yippee. And as you would have it, 44 days into the 2019 season, ole Louisiana draws the short straw. We get the 1st storm of the year! Whoooohooo Louisiana! Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Thank you hurricane Barry.

In the weeks leading up to Barry’s grand arrival (it in fact may have only been one week, not sure. All I do know is it seemed like forever) I, like many others, watched countless news reports. The dramatic, the sensational, the grandiose. Every station, every report, trying, desperately, to report the exact same story from a different angle.

Amidst all this repetitive clatter, one story did manage to catch my attention. Minutes after the winds had dwindled, a city official, in one of the small towns most severely impacted by Barry’s quake, was attempting to appease the media, by providing the interview every newscaster wants in the middle of an ongoing disaster. The one where the interviewee is at their lowest. Just been through one of the worst days of there lives. This was that exact interview. The official was blatantly fatigued, rain soaked, emotionally exhausted, answering question after question, when he said something so profound, I stopped in my tracks. “We haven’t seen a hurricane in our city in 10 years, it revealed our weak points, we have some work to do.”

It revealed our weak points.

We have some work to do.

God began speaking almost immediately. (And no not audibly, I am not looney toons)

This hardship. This difficult season. These day(s), week(s), month(s), year(s) that have entangled, entrapped, beaten, and made you feel as though you were sinking in mud. Suffocating.

They are not for not. They are not to destroy you. They are not to cause you pain. They are here for one purpose. They must reveal your weak points. Once your weak points are clear, they can be repaired, restored, fortified. The next storm, trial, hardship, will not be able to impact, let alone damage this area again.

Yes, the storm has battered, beat, torn, shredded, shattered, and ripped out. Yes, it is agonizing, painful, devastating, and crushing. No, it will not be easy to rebuild, to put back together, to replace. But it can be done.

We have some work to do.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Truth.

It was a beautiful, sunny, South Florida day. My aunt and cousins had come to visit from Georgia, and we were spending the time swimming in the backyard. Our pool was of modest size; above ground, circular, deck built around, and at its deepest, 4.5’ to bottom. Various pool games had been played that day; the famed Marco/Polo, fish out of water, ring diving and some sort of jaws reenactment (which, to children who have never been attacked by a shark, always seems like an appropriate game lol).

The sun had begun its daily bow into the distant horizon, and we, with our chlorinated eyes, sun kissed faces, scrambled to think of just one last game, as the grand finale to a perfect day. “I know! Let’s make a whirl pool!” shouted one cousin. The idea seemed perfect. With so many of us in the water, moving simultaneously, we were sure to create the ultimate vortex.  So, we began. Moving around and around, each of us driving the current. Each loop causing the spin to become faster and more powerful. Then, amid the laughter and excitement, my aunt, infant cousin in arm, lost her footing. In an instant, laughter turned to panic. With my cousin in tow, she began to sink, flailing her arms and dragging anyone under who attempted to get close. The vortex, which moments ago brought such joy, now served as the vice to her demise.

“Just stand up”, “It’s shallow Aunt Elaine”, “Put your feet down and stand”, “You are tall enough to just stand”!!!!!!! We could all see what was happening. We were standing on the outside of the vortex, looking in. The truths we were shouting made logical sense, yet she could not grasp them. Her perspective of the reality she currently faced drowned out all reason. It wasn’t until she grabbed a hold of the truth (that she could stand because the pool was only 4.5’ deep), that her perspective changed. When her perspective changed, her reality shifted. Eminent death became live another day. All by grabbing a hold of the truth.

Each of us have our own reality and we each cling to our perspective of it. Realities like, debt, failing marriages, lost children, singleness=loneliness, addictions, abuse are endless.  Just as endless are the perspectives birthed, when the absence of truth is evident. Perhaps, the reality wasn’t always so hopeless. All didn’t always seem lost. But somewhere, we lost our footing and in an instant, our vision became so muddied by the conditions of our present situation, that hopelessness and contempt ravage our souls. Oh! but there is hope in TRUTH, if we will only choose to see it. If, like my aunt, in the midst of drowning, we will but listen to the truth being shouted.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross so long ago, provides assurance that there is TRUTH. Truth that we can grasp tightly to when all else is crumbling to pieces around us. Truth that can be our rock, our resting place, our answer. Truth that is not just a word or a hope, but is manifest in a God who adores us. Jesus said, “I am the way, the TRUTH and the life…”. Clutching to Him and the truth He affords, breathes life into what was considered dead. What our perspective perceives as ruin, He can transform into restoration. Only if we will let Him.

Reach out and grab His truth. Let him clear the cloudy vision of this current situation and show you His reality.

Forgiveness. For an unlikely candidate.

For weeks I heard the nagging voice of my past, whispering accusations and memories in my ear. Reminding me so eagerly of all the things I longed to forget. After all, “Regret can be a hard taskmaster”. It was a whisper so quiet, no one else could possibly hear, yet for me, so incredibly loud, it was all I could seem to hear.

One early morning, in the quiet; sleep barely out of my eyes, I was desperate for relief. Fiercely seeking a word, a calm, a peace-be-still for the swells that ravaged my mind. Not knowing what else to do, I began reading.

“While I can’t change the past, I am left with clear choices going forward. I can feel bad and the sadness will stay with me, or I can flip my mistakes into lessons for others.

You see, once you own a mistake, it no longer owns you.

God is a redeemer, and His redemptive nature extends into the deep caverns of our regrets and failures. When we bring our failures and regrets into the light, we find God’s redemptive love brings something beautiful out of the ashes.”

As I read the final words of this passage, I heard the still, small voice I had been longing to hear. Spoken directly to the deep caverns of my regret and failure. A word so profound, but even more simple.

For years, I had been focusing on obtaining the forgiveness of others. Recompense for the after effects of my past and its foul decisions. And yes, while this step is very important to the healing process, it is not the only step. That fact, I had forgotten, perhaps, never been taught. That morning, over coffee, the Holy Spirit pulled up a chair and in an instant, drowned the boisterous whisper of condemnation in my mind. By simply asking a question- peace settled into my soul…”Daughter, have you forgiven yourself?”

Mic drop.

Ask God’s forgiveness. Seek forgiveness from others. Forgive yourself.

“Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you.”

EPHESIANS 4:32 AMP

Life.

Life. What do you do when it literally knocks the breath out of you? A blow so hard, it rocks you to your core. It leaves you on your back- gasping for just one, one, single breath? Seemingly hopeless. Lost for words to speak, let alone how to get up or go on.

Grew up a PK (pastors kid for those unfamiliar to the churchy slang lol). First at church, last to leave, alto in every choir, perfect attendance award for every single event, and at 22- found myself unmarried and pregnant. Blunt force blow. Faced with the choice. Adoption or raise this child support-less. Blow. No job, in college, no plan. Adoption seemed inevitable. Adoption seemed the last hope, in my world of none.

8 weeks after the birth of this beautiful baby girl, I found myself haunted by the ghost of her. A ghost, that kept me sleepless, joyless and hopeless. A ghost, I decided, I could no longer live with. After several scary moments. Phone calls. Life changing words spoken. I pulled away from the adoption agency, my precious baby in tow, no idea where to place my next step. Driving in circles. Sobbing. Crying out to God from my heart because I had no words to utter. Faintly, I recalled the words of a familiar hymn.

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say It is well, it is well, with my soul It is well, with my soul It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul It is well (it is well) With my soul (with my soul) It is well, it is well with my soul.”

The words to this hymn have been my comfort for a lot of years now. Through the many blows knocking me to my knees, planning to keep me there, I continued to say, with greater assurance “it is well with my soul”.

I don’t know what your “blow” is today. I don’t know the weight of the burden scavenging all of your breath; but I do know, you have a Jesus, who loves you dearly. I know, that without a shadow of a doubt, you are the apple of his eye. And I know, with great assurance that, this too shall pass. Because of Jesus and the price He paid, you can also say, with unwavering assurance- it is well with my soul- because He is by your side. He longs to carry your burden.

“Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”
1 Peter 5:7 KJV

Begin Again

The days, these days, seem to zoom by in a flash. Not enough hours in the day to get it all done. I often resemble a grown woman-sized, outward personification, of the rabbit from Alice and Wonderland. Scurrying around, muttering wildly under my breath, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.” Always, I seem to be late (or in fear I will be late) for something. Trying to cram a size 8 curvy fit day, into a size 6 super skinny jean day (y’all know exactly what I’m trying to say).

Yet somehow, when the sun sets, and I finally plop down, it feels as though it has been weeks since that 5 am alarm buzzed. As I attempt to recount the various tasks, deadlines and activities of the day, it seems impossible that only a few hours has passed since, I so begrudgingly, parted ways with my fuzzy slippers. How does that even happen lol? I literally feel as though I never stop, but at the end of the day, feel like I accomplished nothing…how about y’all?

In my devotion time this week, I stumbled across a passage that struck me to my core. Words so eloquently written from the perspective of a busy woman, mom, wife, student, employee…just like me. A call to “begin again”. Despite the many challenges facing me today- I get to begin again. I knew immediately, I must share this prospect of new beginnings with you ladies.

One last thing before I share this little treasure with you- a promise…

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalms 91:1

Without further adieu…

Always we begin again.”—St. Benedict

I am longing for ordinary, perhaps even experiencing a call to the ordinary.

We have lived in extraordinary for so long—twins, moves overseas, a baby born in the Middle East, moves back to the States, deployments.

I have always been drawn to big and dramatic and loud and exciting. And I have never been more ready for ordinary.

In the Christian liturgical calendar, there are two periods called “Ordinary Time”—a span leading up to Lent and then another span, which I am in as I write, that stretches from Easter to Advent. This second stretch is called “Trinitytide.”

Ordinary Time calls us back to our simple practices, our roots, all our tending that tethers us to the present.

Ordinary time is where we begin again.

Not New Year’s Resolutions or Lenten Commitments or Advent Waiting.

Not the big stuff. Just the ordinary. 

Feeding the cat. Washing my face. Opening the mail. Reading a poem. Sending a card. Making the meal. Witnessing and being witnessed. Holding. Nourishing and nurturing.

I love the idea of the everyday-extraordinary happening in the Ordinary, the periodic elements of this dying-living we are all doing.

Taking our meds. Confessing to friends. Breathing. Beginning again. Opening our hands and letting the wilderness— the unknown—be the wild place where new life begins.

This morning, I am back at my kitchen table, in the dark, hot coffee in hand. The heater is cutting through the morning chill.

I am reminded, as I type, sip, type, sip, of an idea my friend gave me: that any flat surface can be an altar.

She told me that wiping down a countertop or clearing the edge of a bathtub or tidying a desk . . . all of this creates a bit of space that becomes an altar if we will see it that way.

A place to commemorate and receive. A place to say thank you and to be loved. A place to surrender.

My prayer at the altar-table is this: God, give me only what I need for today.

I never want this part of my day to end, since starting to practice it. I go to bed looking forward to the heat and the coffee and the darkness. I have worshiped sleep in the past. Wanting rest more than I have wanted anything.

Now, rest is coming. And I am so very held and met in these dark minutes, maybe an hour. I want to harness it, stave off the light, but it comes. The sky begins to change. A child has forgotten to latch the chicken run tightly and the chickens begin moving in my peripheral vision. Important business, those chickens seem to always have, with the ground.

I’m never not surrounded by a stack of books, voices who meet me in this dark pocket. I see how I must get in bed earlier. I must turn the TV off the night before. I must take better care of myself if I am to get up and listen each and every morning.

The decisions to honor this time begin far before 5 a.m., and something about that feels right.

Feels congruent. Sacrificial and rewarding, like all worthy things in life. Now on to the altar of the countertop—lunch packing, breakfast making, dish clearing.

Every step an arrival, as the poet Denise Levertov wroteAn arrival into the present, which is always waiting for me to join it.

When I was minutes out of graduate school and brand-newly twenty-four years old, I drove from West Virginia where I had been in school, down to Virginia to pick up my little brother from college, home to San Diego, and then I slept for an entire day. 

When I woke up, I found a book my mom left on my nightstand. A gift. Twilight Comes Twice. It’s a children’s book about dawn and dusk, a simple reminder that the sun goes down and the sun comes up. Every day. And twice, in between, we get the gift of these golden hours, these pockets of waking up and winding down.

No matter how beautiful and epic and glorious life is right now, the sun goes down.

And no matter how ugly and rejecting and hurtful life is right now, the sun comes up.

Something about this kind of saved me then and saves me now.

I was young and starting over geographically and professionally and relationally.

But more than that, the very rhythm of creation was reminding me that it wasn’t all up to me. Something was going on that was beyond me, behind me, below me, beside me.

And I just needed to join it, fall into it, beginning again and again and again.

I could join or I could resist.

But either way, the sun would set and the sun would rise—with or without me.

I could try to outrun the sun with my superhuman striving. 

I could try to hide in the dark with my subhuman shame. 

But the invitation, then and now, was to join the rhythm of creation, which is to be what we were simply and profoundly created to be . . . human.

Human. In all its extraordinary everyday ordinary.

If I am failing, stuck, and paralyzed, I always have the opportunity to begin again.

And if I am winning, elated, and propelled, I still must begin again.

None of us is too far gone, in the same way that none of us has arrived.

Could you and I join the rhythm of twice-a-day twilight that reminds us there are gifts in both the light and dark—illumination and stillness? If you’re in the dark, you can begin again.

And if you’re in the broad side of the light, you will still need to begin again. This is how we practice being human.

Twilight comes twice.

Yesterday afternoon, as dusk arrived, we were all in the pool, kids climbing on Steve’s back and jumping off the diving board in tandem, which I’m absolutely sure is illegal. The kids were screaming their heads off and the water sloshed up and over the sides of the pool from the aftershocks of their dual entries.

The setting sun made the pool water glitter like our own personal ocean. And it’s hard to imagine a sweeter moment.

But the sun goes down and we come inside and we rest.

And this morning I was up early, and the golden light was back again, the mountains out beyond the kitchen sink window backlit in blush.

And I was reminded anew . . .

Whether we are in crisis or chaos or calm, hope or disappointment, burial or resurrection, ordinary or extraordinary, we can—

because of the inexhaustible grace of God  —   begin again.