It does not feel like a significant event, really. Along with my usual joy of celebrating my life on this planet, I found myself in contented state of mind. Last year, when I turned 35, I experienced a bit of a mid-thirties crisis and quickly decided to return to school to obtain my bachelor’s degree before age 40. I also decided to plan several trips for our family, to finally get my husband and I enrolled in classes to become foster parents, and to write a book.
Big plans and dreams are “kinda my thing”.
I certainly have grand plans for the coming year. Yet, if 2020 has taught me anything, it is to hold those plans loosely, for one never knows what will happen from day to day.
So, this year, to mark my birthday, I am writing this post to recommend to the few people who may read this post a few things that I enjoy. A few books to read. A few practices to undertake. A few thoughts to ponder.
Let’s pretend I am rich and famous. I am a celebrity – an Oprah! So the world has to listen to what I have to say.
After all, it is my birthday.
These are in no particular order as they all mean something to me.
Here is what I recommend:
Sitting still more often.
Reading the Bible, particularly the Psalms.
Listening to your partner
Dancing, dancing, dancing!
Playing music loudly and singing along.
Learning a new language, even just a word or two.
Making a friend.
Writing poetry. Even if it isn’t good poetry. Who cares?
Leaving the dishes in the sink & playing with your kids.
Reading as many books as you can. Never be anywhere without a book.
Enjoying ice cream…or cake…or pie…. Really enjoy it.
Spending time in the sun.
Planting a garden. Dirt is fun.
Drawing, or sketching, or painting, or coloring. Just put something on paper. I’m learning how to sketch, thanks to YouTube.
Learning a new skill. I recently learned how to convert .WAV files to MP3 files.
Taking a class. I recommend classes from Sophia Learning. They offer wonderful material.
Memorizing something. I am memorizing a Wordsworth poem, but it does not have to be poetry. Just memorize some lines, or a song, or….something.
Performing acts of kindness to those around you — those in your household, your workplace, and your neighborhood.
Telling your partner, “Thank you.” Don’t take him or her for granted.
Apologizing to your children. A perfect parent does not exist. Saying sorry to my son is something I do almost every day.
Putting words on paper. Perhaps this recommendation is because I am a writer, but words on paper do the soul good. So I recommend creating a gratitude list, or a journal entry, or even just writing about something or someone you love.
Taking long, slow walks in nature.
Seeing a therapist. I have written on this in the past, but I will say it again. There is no shame in needing help. Talking to someone helps.
Saying “please” and “thank you”. Courtesy need not be lost if we practice it.
Watching movies under a blanket outside. I have done this with friends in the summer. It is wonderful.
Sleeping under a weighted blanket. Call me privileged, but this was the best gift I have received in 2020. Delicious sleep under this blanket.
Calling someone you love who lives far away and catching up.
Setting boundaries with relationships and respecting them.
Listening to Podcasts. Specifically, the Robcast, TedTalks Daily, and Forever 35. But of course, my new podcast with my dad, The Preacher & Her Dad, is pretty fun too….
Listening to an online church service. Red Rocks Church and FlatIrons Church both have amazing pastors and worship songs.
Meditating each day, even if just for a few minutes. This is a new practice for me but it keeps my mind calm and my emotions regulated.
Moving your body daily. I run, I walk, I stretch, I go to the gym. It really does not matter what you do, as long as you move.
Taking breaks from social media and the internet. I love the internet; I’m on the internet. But it is a busy place to spend all of one’s time, so vacationing from it is highly recommended.
Giving away something to someone else. Just because.
Indulging in anything pumpkin flavored this season. I especially love pumpkin spice lattes (cliche, I know) and pumpkin pie Pop-Tarts.
Hugging the ones close to you. Tightly.
That’s it. 36 recommendations.
From my heart to yours on the eve of my 36th birthday.
The preacher said the phrase again. Cold fear shot down my spine from my temple to my toes.
“Beyond a shadow of a doubt”, he droned. “You must know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Heaven is yours, that Jesus is your Savior, that you have repented and turned from your sin to God.”
Here’s the thing: I knew Jesus was my Savior. It was the doubt part that troubled me. Well, the doubt and the sin. I certainly hadn’t committed any Christian-deemed sins in my young life. No drugs, no alcohol, no promiscuity (didn’t even know what that really was), no premarital sex, no cursing. As my grandma loved to say, “I don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t run with those that do.”
So what exactly did I need to be saved from? I wasn’t sure but I knew I desperately wanted in. I wanted Jesus. I didn’t think my “conversion story” was much of a story, so I longed for a better one. Here’s what happened to me one afternoon in my memory. It was a Sunday. My mom was settling me in for a nap. I asked about Jesus. We prayed together. Something happened in my soul that my young mind couldn’t describe yet with words. I knew a peace and a satisfaction at that moment. Some might say it was the Holy Spirit.
This little memory has caused me much turmoil, even though it is an event that has been confirmed by my mother. She even wrote a little piece in the front flap of her Bible, “October 9, 1989, Kathleen prayed to accept Jesus as her Savior.”
I can’t tell you the relief that flooded me when my mom gave me that scrap of paper during my late teenage years.
As if salvation and Divine encounters can be summed up in one prayer and one moment.
Because I was consistently worried if “I had done it right”, and because I was terrified I hadn’t truly “repented”, during my childhood years I would repeatedly pray the sinner’s prayer, desperate for confirmation of Jesus’ grace and a peace in my spirit.
I would then wonder, “Was it that time?” or “Was it the time before?” Which prayer was the most real?
These questions were not the only ones that ran around my mind. Other doubts plagued me, but I kept them to myself. There was no room for questions in my denomination of Independent Fundamental Baptists. The firm voices around me admonished me to hold faith in the doctrines they taught. They quashed my questions. Misunderstood my heart. Diverted the doubts as misguided. Don’t question the stance that only one Bible translation (The King James Version 1611) is accurate. Don’t ask, “Why are women not supposed to wear pants or work outside the home?” Don’t dare speak out when the pastor from the pulpit demeans women who work outside the home.
Do not dare wonder if God loves everybody, then why does He hate gay people? Don’t even think about the fact that the majority of the leaders in the church are men, and when a woman speaks, she is mocked secretly behind closed doors.
Don’t speak about your terror in experiencing a spanking with a wooden paddle across your legs by your Christian schoolteacher. Don’t even give voice to the waiver of doubt about pledging allegiance to your church and to your pastor. Learn the words verbatim and recite them with the rest of your Christian school classmates. “I pledge allegiance to my church and to my pastor who preaches the Word of God. I will faithfully support my church with my tithes and offerings.” Don’t even allow yourself to entertain the thought of, “Is this actually the way that Jesus taught us?”
Most of all, don’t question the salvation experience itself. You must have said the Sinner’s Prayer, shown actual repentant tears, and turned your whole body away from any worldly inclination. Otherwise, you likely were not saved from hell.
As all of these questions tormented my young heart, it is no wonder I experienced nightmares, cold sweats, and severe anxiety. There was no security to be found….unless I built my life around the doctrines drilled into me by the church. My mom even had this little book she would open up after dinner each night with our family. “The Little Book of Catechisms” was the name of it. The book systematically listed out questions, like “who made me” and “who was Jesus?” There in black and white were the solid answers for my questioning soul. I loved it. Even more so than my older brothers. I devoured the information, memorizing each answer so I would just know.
My experience of Divine peace in the moment with my mom fell away as I developed the muscles of knowledge and answers.
It worked for me for a long time.
I was a loyal daughter of the church. I willed myself beyond feelings and rested inside my church’s beliefs. I became sold out for Jesus. The Jesus of the Independent Fundamental Bible-believing Baptist Church. I learned the rules and the ropes – bought into all of them heart and soul as I buried all my doubts and insecurities.
I was fine. Richard Rohr, in his book “Falling Upward”, coined the term “the Loyal Soldier”. That was me. I was the good girl, the believer, the one with a testimony. I remember a visiting preacher telling me once that he wished he had my story. His was full of drinking and smoking and girls and fistfights, but mine, well, I was a missionary’s daughter with nothing on my record. Pristine and shiny. “I’d give anything for your story,” he told me.
I remember one Sunday afternoon as I studied my Bible at the dining room table, my notebooks open before me, my older brother passed by and saw me. His face lifted in a half smile. “You really are a good kid, aren’t you?” As I reflect back on this memory now, I noticed his voice held almost a hint of sadness.
Yes, I was a good kid. The Preacher’s Daughter. The Missionary Kid. The Baptist Nun. These beliefs kept me safe. These doctrines held me fast. Baptist Jesus was there for me in the readings and the memorizations and rules.
This way held true for me.
Until it didn’t.
I think Jesus was excited when I took the first step away from rigidity.
(Real Jesus, not my church’s version of Jesus, let me be clear.)
When I leaped from the missionary life into a completely different career as a young adult, suddenly the secure answers I held no longer solved the deepest longings of my soul or answered the hard questions I was facing.
Would the older gentleman with the white hair and friendly blue eyes burn in hell forever because he died without saying a certain prayer? I could no longer believe this.
Was the nice guy who worked in the back of the restaurant depraved and evil because he was later arrested for drug possession? I couldn’t believe that.
How was I supposed to console the grief of a co-worker who was a refugee in the United States and was worried constantly about his family still in peril? I didn’t have answers anymore, so I just listened to him.
What kind of person would I be to tell the gay person I met that God disapproved of their lifestyle and they would burn in hell unless they changed? I would be a non-loving person, full of judgment instead of grace and truth.
Was the Catholic family I met really “unchristian”, even as they shared their meals with me, let me sleep on their couch, and spend all the major holidays with them? No, they were more Christlike than others I had known.
Was God enraged at me when I had to work on a Sunday because my manager scheduled me to work? No, He loves unconditionally.
Were the new friends I made out of tune with God because the girls wore slacks, the guys sometimes drank beer, and they all watched R- rated movies? No, they were more in tune with Him because they were teaching me to see the Divine in everything.
Could I read the works of Fredrich Nietzsche and still love the Bible? Oh my word, yes, young one, yes.
I started to hold the doctrines I’d been taught up to the light and examine them one by one. As questions arose, I studied and prayed and opened my heart to a new understanding of the love and grace and compassion of Jesus.
This process has been years in the making and is still ongoing. Jesus never despised questions. So often in Scripture, He answered a question with another question! When approached by religious leaders or lawyers or even the common man with questions during His time as a Rabbi, His most heard response was, “What does the Scripture say? How do you read it?” He hardly confirmed quick and solid answers; rather, he readily encouraged the journey of wrestling with the tough questions.
When I came to Him, holding up all these questions in my heart, I think He smiled and said, “Finally! Now we are getting somewhere with your faith!”
The life I held “before” was full of answers. You name the question, we provided the answer, no problem. If you stick by abiding to these answers, you would be okay. “How do I get to Heaven? Say a prayer. What is sin? Smoking, drinking, gossiping, and watching dirty movies. What does God want? Give your tithes.”
Why have my experiences outside my Baptist upbringing sparked a resolve in me?
Because until I was okay with questions, I wasn’t truly okay.
Every day I spend in searching for the work of Divine Love, I’m learning to become more and more okay with vagueness, with holding things loosely, and with mystery. I’m finding it is more important to ask questions than to know the answers. It’s more valuable to listen than talk.
It means more to step lightly with a person than to pounce on top of them with giant boots.
If my encounter with Jesus had been limited to a “one and done” transaction, how empty my life would be. I believe I met Him that afternoon so long ago with my mom guiding me. I also believe I have met Him many times since then. In the questions. In the darkness. In humanity. In every step I’ve taken away from my list of rules and into the wide field of His grace. He keeps step with me and my doubts.
Life is a dance. One that is full of darkness and light. One that contains Divine experiences with no words, and one that explodes with expressions that need words.
A friend said to me, one night after a discussion about all the questions, “Are we really supposed to have all the answers? I don’t think we ever will.”
I nodded sagely, wordless. Not because I was done with questions, but because sometimes silence is the best answer.
Will I ever stop questioning?
No, no, I don’t think I will.
This much I know:
Beyond a shadow of any doubt, I’m keeping the questions.
That’s where life is found.
And, as it happens, that is where Jesus is too.
*This piece is intended to be a part of my memoir that I am currently writing and someday will finish.
In the small village in Germany, where my family and I lived when I was fourteen, our neighbors, Herr and Frau Stoof, invited us over one afternoon for coffee and sweets. Frau Stoof also brewed a passion-fruit tea, just for me. She let me enjoy the whole pot – a beautiful carafe of German porcelain.
I drank cup after cup of the sweetened tea. Delicious.
I also think that Frau Stoof gave me tea because she knew I was the baby of the family. I was the young one, who wasn’t quite adult enough to handle the strains of good German brew. I wasn’t quite who I needed to be at her table; perhaps she was waiting for maturity in me to blossom.
When I was fifteen, my family moved up the road, to a two-story house, nestled in the center of the village, surrounded by three other house. Our new neighbors, Friedl and Gretl (sisters), invited me one afternoon to play cards with them and drink coffee. My brother, David, and I went together.
Friedl didn’t offer me a carafe of tea. She brewed thick, black coffee. The kind that runs down your throat, directly into your veins, like saline from an I.V., and spikes your hair at the ends.
I loved it.
Maybe it was because she didn’t question a 15-year-old drinking the stuff. She just poured me cup after cup without hesitation.
Suddenly, I was grown-up.
After a while, it became less about the coffee as a beverage, and more about what coffee represented in my life. This dark brew, which I always over-stuffed with sugar and cream, provided an opening for me to be myself, to be real, to be…vulnerable.
I referred to them in my journals simply as “the ladies.” They weren’t concerned about my weight, my acne, or my lack of maturity. They wanted me to deal their cards to them, eat their sweets, and listen to their stories of the time after World War II when life for Germans was rough and painful.
They gave me advice, like, “Women today change men like they change shirts, don’t do that!”, and “Getting old is cruel. Don’t do it!”, and “If you’re going to move on from hard times, you have to forget and forgive.”
They asked me questions about who I was, what I wanted to do, and what interested me. They were curious about my background and education. They wanted to know all my hopes and dreams and secrets.
I relished those times, huddled in their kitchens. The world shrank to the size of a rough-hewn table, covered with a hand-stitched, embroidered cloth. The clock ticked slowly. The steam from the coffee floated over our pastries and playing cards.
These women loved me unconditionally. They held no private agenda in our times together. There was no topic off-limits. No discussion halted. No remarks unheeded. They expected nothing from me, except the truest version of me.
I can’t help but think these coffee times helped shape my ideals and values. When I think of preparing my home for a future child through foster care—perhaps even a teenager—I think the ladies would approve. After all, they certainly didn’t mind an awkward, socially-shy girl hanging around their houses.
They welcomed me with open arms.
Whether it’s over a cup tea or a mug of coffee or perhaps a pint of beer, I hope we can all learn to nurture a sense of belonging for the people around us. I hope we can learn to stop judging and start listening. I hope that we can right the wrongs and create brighter futures. There is much work to do. I see the needs in my community, my family, my nation, and my world. It is exhausting at times, and it is overwhelming at others. Some days, I’m not entirely sure what the next step is.
But then, I put on some coffee, think about “the ladies” with their hopeful eyes, their inquiring minds, and their strong opinions, and I make a list of things to do next.
One step at a time, I am determined to be a part of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. One person at a time, I will do my best to make them feel loved and valued and appreciated. I have “the ladies” to thank for these sentiments. I regret not a single caffeinated afternoon with them.
At the root of all their other pieces of advice and nuggets of truth they shared was this shining gem:
So, to my “ladies”, I say a deep and heartfelt…
I hope I can make others feel as just as accepted as you made me feel.
I love you. You’ve taken me places I would never have gone. You’ve given solace when I was alone. You kept me from other versions of self-harm. Your offer of ice cream and peanut butter was better than cutting my arm open. You kept me safe. So, thank you.
Thanks for being around. Thanks for staying the same when nothing felt stable. Thanks for not judging me but just accepting I was in front of you again, looking for solace, comfort, peace, approval, when I couldn’t find it anywhere else.
You did more than your job. You’ve been working around the clock all these years. You’ve been pulling more weight than you needed to. I really appreciate that. Thanks for your efforts and your time. Thanks for your company. Thanks for the hits of pleasure. Thanks for the ride salty and sweet and of fat and umami. Thanks for the out of body and mind experiences—these were quite the trips, right? The approved drug of choice for a good Christian girl. Once again, you rose beyond the call of duty.
So, here’s my release to you, dear Food. You no longer have to work so hard for me. I’m better now and improving every day. Please take a vacation. Go see other friends. GO back to your intended job. Overtime hours aren’t good for you or me.
I’m not firing you, nor am I kicking you out of my life completely. I love you, you know? But I’m letting you go back to your proper place. The place of nourishment, of joy, and of community. I don’t need you in the dark anymore, because I have friends in my life. I don’t need you to take me out of my body anymore because my body is good and strong and beautiful, just as she is. I don’t need you to numb my emotions anymore (thank you for this all these years) because feelings are okay for me to have. They are welcome in my life.
I have room for the largeness of myself. I just needed to reclaim it. I have space to love and to be loved. I have the right to this space. I deserve kindness and joy and light. Yes, I also want to have the wine and the chocolate and the cheesecake and the pizza. But I will also feel sad and lonely. I will also allow anger its place. I will feel hurt and speak up when I am. I will allow myself the effervescence of joy and the bubbliness of laughter.
To all of it.
Someone once said that God could have created us to live without you, Food, but the fact is that He did not. So, here’s what I am asking of you. Please nourish my body. Give her vitamins and minerals that she requires. Give her tasty experiences at mealtimes which satisfy her hunger. Show up at family gatherings and holidays and birthdays. Put your best foot forward. I’ll cheer you on. Me, in this body with all her flaws and imperfections. Me, fully myself.
Thank you so much for all your efforts on my behalf. I’ve got it from here. I’m not alone. Take a break from your extra duties. I’ll see you around.
My dad told me this story about my grandparents and their interactions with farmworkers in the 1960’s. My grandpa would hire workers during the summer months to help with baling hay or weeding out fields.
Some of these workers were African Americans.
It was a standard practice of farms during that time to have the hired help sit outside on picnic tables instead of inside the kitchen with the family.
My grandmother staunchly opposed this practice. She always invited every person inside to sit at the table to eat and to rest.
“They’ve worked just as hard as everyone else,” she would say.
Both my grandparents believed every person deserved dignity and equality.
Everyone had a seat at the table. Everyone was heard.
This is the visual that I hold in my heart when I think about interacting with people from other backgrounds, religions, races, and creeds.
They are working hard like me. They have a family like me. They have dreams and goals like me. They want to live in peace and freedom like me.
Something else troubles me, though, in light of recent events in the United States, and in retrospect to other events which have consistently occurred in my country for years.
It is the thought that people of color are actually working harder.
They have to think about how they look wearing a hoodie pulled over their head.
They have to take extra precautions when driving.
They second guess going for a run.
They feel unprotected in society.
The list could go on and on but I won’t pretend I know every fear that my brothers and sisters as African Americans, Latino Americans, and Muslim Americans experience.
They have their own voices; it is time for me to listen.
When I need an example of how to be around people, I look to Jesus. In His time on earth, before He said any words, He listened. People knew that about Him; that’s one of the reasons they flocked to Him. The marginalized, the under-dogs, the outcasts, the misunderstood—those are the ones who followed Him and who gathered around His table.
The rich and famous and privileged certainly didn’t like it when He broke bread with people that society disapproved. Jesus didn’t care what they thought of Him. He called for justice, for truth, and for mercy.
I agree with Jesus. It is time in our country for justice, for truth, and for mercy. Clearly there are roots of racial prejudice that run deep. My country has to change. Until every person is treated with dignity, respect, and grace, the work isn’t done.
It is time for privileged to invite the disadvantaged to the table where there is plenty.
It is their turn to be heard. The privileged need to step back from the microphone.
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In order for me to understand, I have to listen to the voices of those around me.
My brothers and sisters deserve, as children of God and as Image-bearers of the Divine, to have a space in this world to dream, to speak, and to feel safe.
It’s time for them to stop working so hard.
And it’s time for the privileged to do the work instead.
When I was little, my family and I had to drive through one small village in Germany in order to reach the other small village where we lived. Along the winding road through the first village was a row of rough-hewn doors carved into the side of a rounded hill. When we would pass these doors—which seemingly led to nowhere—at night, I would feel a surge of fear. What was behind those doors? Were there ghosts dwelling there? Is that where the living dead would come out as I’d see in the (truly terrifying) movie, “The Night of the Living Dead?”
I made up various stories in my young mind about these doors. Where they led. What their purpose was. What was kept in their lairs. All of my reasons were spooky and hair-raising, be assured.
Turns out, they were root cellars.
A little boring perhaps, but practical in reality.
Inside those cellars, items were stored for another season. Possibly some things were forgotten. Maybe neglected equipment. Perhaps a lost pair of gardening boots. I imagined that the farmers in charge of those cellars were simultaneously pleased and dismayed each time they surveyed the contents behind those dark doors.
Still, it seems to me, as I put my over-active imagination to rest, those cellars provided usefulness to the farmer. They provided a place for storage that otherwise wouldn’t have been available. When the time came, whatever season it was, the farmer would descend, and ascend, bringing up whatever he needed to the surface. Useful, outdated, rusty, neglected. All of it was cataloged. All of it noted.
The image of an old and dark cellar is prevalent in my mind as the last eight weeks inside my house has surfaced a wide assortment of emotions, tools, and experiences.
A quarantined life isn’t something I planned, nor did any other person on the globe currently. It is a trial by fire situation. I recently joked to a friend that I am the grumpy person in a trial as I don’t often react in the most shining way. “I don’t want to grow!” I lamented to her.
In the Biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Book of Daniel, Chapter 3), the three friends refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s god and subsequently get thrown into a fiery furnace. The Son of God joins them. They escape the fire. The king recognizes the One and Only God.
But if I had been in the fire with those guys, I know I would have been the worst and the most vocal about it. “Really, Shadrach? You just had to spout off to the king? Come on, Abednego, couldn’t you have used your diplomacy to smooth things over? No, you didn’t, and now we are stuck here. And I’m HOT. And this was my FAVORITE robe, and now it’s BURNT.”
What I’m saying is that while sometimes tough circumstances lead humans to rise in glory and sacrifice, for other humans, trials uncover traits that are neither noble nor valiant. This time has driven me to consider the items inside my old, dirty cellar. One by one, they are getting dragged out into the light of day, exposed for their true essence.
Like it or not. Here they come.
Anger has arisen its wild head. Anger with “Why is this happening to us? Why is this sickness ravaging our world and wreaking havoc on good people?” Anger at not wanting to teach my kid on an iPad. Anger at myself for getting snippy with the people I love the most. Anger at the lack of self-control I experience. Anger at injustice for the least of these in my community and my nation.
And then, sadness marches up from the darkness. Hello, she says, I’m here for you. You know me, I help you cry and cry. until you have nothing left. I lend you the feelings of despair and hopelessness. I lead you to believe that nothing will ever change. Things will never improve. Do you want another cookie with your tears?
Shame parades its flag over me. Shame over the my fumbling to balance work and motherhood. Shame about rough spots in marriage, of uncertain finances, and a faulty body image. Shame is screaming in my ears, “You are never enough. Look, this time of hardship is only proving it.”
Next to the surface: unforgiveness. I realize that I am holding onto old hurts, past wrongs, and grudges against people that need to go. I certainly didn’t want to see this one, but behold, here she is—drug up the broken stairs from the deepest parts of my heart.
Craving for approval looms large. I almost can’t fit it up the stairs to meet the light. My longing for someone else to stamp a seal on my God-given callings wrecks me. It is an illuminating realization to see that my worth has been wrapped up in the idea of how much I can put out into the world and how much will someone else praise me.
Out into the daylight, all of these emotions and experiences are laid bare. There is time now to consider them. I have long mornings of reading and writing as I no longer have a commute to my job. There are the quiet evenings at home with my boys. I don’t think I had slowed down in my life for long enough to let the deepest parts of myself rise within me prior to this season.
But now, they are here. I am evaluating what to do with them. I’m opening up my heart and mind and soul for the work of the Divine light to change me, to burn away the outer cover-ups (yes, even if it was my favorite robe), and to mold me into a more whole-hearted human.
Let me be clear too, this time away from a regular routine, social gatherings, and even my church, has not only surfaced the busted trappings of my life. It has also revealed some very good and useful items as well:
Contemplation during the morning hours, getting to know my inner being with God
Sitting with my emotions and feeling them in all their wildness
Teaching my son to read, realizing that I do have some skills as a teacher
Playing games with friends via a silly app called Ticket to Ride and knowing I can maintain connections with the people that I care for
Hanging out with our neighbors via yelling across the street or sitting on our front lawn while they sit on theirs
Realizing how good I have it and knowing in my core that I am called to give and to serve to the best of my capacity – yes and beyond my capacity
Rediscovering a love for playing music and dancing with my son
Keeping a deep, abiding passion for Jesus Christ and Him Crucified and developing a crazy love response to His teachings
The ability to rest
Capacity to love myself and my family
Cultivating peace in a storm
Dreaming up big dreams
These are all valuable pieces inside my cellar. They are the well-worn bits, reliable and sturdy, which I have taken for granted during the busier seasons. I love each one. But the most revealing idea to me in this time of isolation has been that the other stuff needs attention too. Maybe I don’t want to let them have the limelight all the time. Maybe they aren’t the greatest communicators of truth. Some of them will get kicked to the curb. But they all exist for a reason. They all deserve a place.
Each element—good or bad or neutral—plays an important role in creating my complete self. This wild and wonderful and unpredictable person called me. The one who needs grace. The one who has things to say. The one who wants to love and be loved. As Jen Hatmaker so eloquently phrases in her latest book, Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, “We need you, not for what you do but who you are. Do the work and show up for your life.”
Around my state of Colorado, stay at home orders are getting lifted, but there is still much uncertainty. We don’t yet know what new routines look like. We can’t see around the curve. But we are somewhat resuming the run-of-the-mill life again. Businesses are reopening. People can gather in small groups. Calendars suddenly have appointments.
While a quarantined life may be in the past, what was uncovered during its enforcement still lives inside me. The work still needs to be done. Whether it is the work of tempering anger, freeing unforgiveness, starting a new project, or nurturing a big dream, the heavy lifting must be done. As Charles Kingsley said, “Have thy tools ready, God will find thee work.”
I’m sharpening the tools – even the rusty ones have a purpose.
I’m reminded of Jesus emerging from His 40 days in the wilderness. This wilderness experience happened just before He started His powerful ministry. Was He changed inside out? Did His true values come out? Was He shaken from His encounter with Satan, with pride & ego, and with questions about His calling? Maybe He was. But He moved forward with grace and hope, knowing Who He was and what His purpose was in the world. If anything, He left the time alone with greater resolve. He wasn’t afraid of any evil threatening Him. The Divine in Him was greater than any Evil. The work of His Father remained paramount. He stayed ready.
My time spent in this dusty root cellar shall not be wasted. As I emerge from its damp and dusty surroundings, I hope I stand in the sunlight, letting it flood my entire being from soul and heart to body and mind. There is work to do. Another season is upon me. I need every tool I can find.
Whole-hearted living awaits.
My robe’s a little burnt but that’s okay.
The cellar’s contents are teaching me and molding me.
The letter was three pages long. For weeks, I had waited for it, longingly checking the mailbox, anticipating its arrival as though it were announcing the Queen of England was coming to visit.
The year was 2001. I had graduated from High School and was enrolled in a college-level Creative Writing Course via correspondence with the Christian Writer’s Guild. At 16, I had graduated early and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Except I knew one thing: I wanted to write.
The course arrived in a giant binder. It was split into weekly readings and assignments. I eagerly dove into the first week, quickly wrote a short story, and mailed it off for review by my Instructor, Norman.
The waiting was unlike anything experienced by most people today. 19 years ago, I had no email, no social media, no texting. My only link to my far-off instructor was a mailing address to a P.O. Box. I waited impatiently, filling up pages of a journal with nervous notes about his anticipated response.
And then, it came. The letter with the three pages of feedback.
Feedback that wasn’t great. Feedback that didn’t tell me how awesome my writing skills were. Feedback that hurt.
As I finally came to the end of the missive—dear God, would Norman never be done ripping apart my story?—, he jotted this sentence.
“You have some good lines here.” -Norm
Blinking back tears at the stinging criticism of the prior paragraphs, I folded the letter and went back to my desk to rewrite the story. Norm’s words echoed in my heart. He saw the good lines. He leaned into my potential. He spurred me on with both truth and encouragement.
I only wish he had started his missive with that sentence.
This idea of good lines has haunted my days over the last month. As the pandemic of COVID-19, a new type of virus, has overtaken the world, its effect has been devastating on countries, health care systems, and families. My social media accounts are flooded with statistics of rising deaths across the United States, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Spain…. My email is packed with alerts from restaurants, my local movie theater, and my local gym, informing me of ways to help their laid-off staff. Grocery store workers just look exhausted and pale. Parents are overwhelmed with working from home and homeschooling kids. Travel is cancelled. Concerts postponed. Plans are dashed.
I read an article that blamed President Trump.
I scrolled through a Facebook post that said it was God’s wrath.
I heard about an angry mob who beat up an Asian man because all this started in China.
We are not short on bad news from all sides these days.
The hope for anything good seems to be waning.
One of my verses for 2020 is from Colossians 3:14, from Eugene Patterson’s The Message translation. Saint Paul wrote to persecuted Christians: “And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”
Never be without it. No matter what is going on in your life, let love cover it.
Love hides imperfections.
Love embraces the hurting.
Love includes everyone.
Love lifts us up when we are torn down. Love conquers, protects, and instructs.
Love calms complaints. Love encourages. Love steps up to help when others need it.
Love does the hard work.
Love always brings up good lines.
My husband and I recently completed a 5-week training to become foster care parents. This training was the first step in many to complete a certification process. We spent 6 hours, two nights a week, holed up in a small classroom with about a half-dozen other participants talking about logistics of placing a child, biological parents, trauma and a child’s brain, and sexual abuse. The trainers left no stone unturned. No topic was off-limits. Honesty abounded. One of the issues we discussed was the inner dialogue that children carry around in their heads. The trainers referred to this as a child’s “Invisible Suitcase”. These kids may show up to our door with a trash bag full of their clothes, or they may show up with no clothes or belongings at all. That is heartbreaking all on its own. But under the surface, there exists bulging baggage of beliefs.
“It’s my fault.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“No one loves me.”
“I’m alone. I can only rely on me.”
This hit home because I know what that inner dialogue has looked like in my own head for too long. I’ve been keeping a journal since I was 12 years-old, so I have a wealth of inner dialogue. Some of my own snippets on repeat in my head have been:
“Danger lies in thinking you are something when you are nothing”.
“I want to believe I am valued but I know otherwise.”
“I am the only one who is experiencing this pain.”
“Does God really care about me?”
These phrases indicate a deeply rooted belief system that I had built internally over the years. Imagine my surprise when my therapist later told me other truths. Truths like, “God isn’t requiring anything from you” and “You can forgive yourself for all the times you think you have screwed up.” and “Grace is for you too.”
These phrases were better beliefs to carry around with me.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned to build up my environment with pillars of truth on the strong foundation of love. Sure, some days, all I can see is the old script—the one that wants to blare itself loudly in my internal sound system. But mostly, I’m listening to the good lines. These truths are spoken over me by the community I have built up around me. I know there are people around me, full of faith and love, who are willing to text me, call me, or even run across town to pick me up when I’m on the floor in tears.
I’m grateful for them.
As I ponder this in my life, I wonder, now, where I am giving out the good lines. How is my belief system impacting how I respond to the world around me? In this time of crisis, I don’t want to bombard my social media pages with bombastic rhetoric and trite phrases. People need honesty and vulnerability right now, not solutions. I’m not saying words of love will heal someone’s lungs or give medical staff more personal protective equipment. Words alone won’t quell the fear raging across our neighborhoods. Fear of sickness. Fear of job loss. Fear of the unknown. Fear of death. Over the last few weeks, what we have been carrying around in our invisible suitcases now appears visible for everyone to see. Fear brings out our truest selves.
So, how does all this tie together? The words from Norm. Foster care kids out there. COVID-19 ransacking our world.
I’m not sure.
I’m not sure of anything these days.
If love is my basic all-purpose garment, then it calls me to action. Just as Norm’s ill-placed sentence all those years ago sent me back to write, so does Saint Paul’s better-phrased words deploy me to do something. In the midst of the tragedy around me, I’ve seen goodness erupt…
In the form of:
People skilled with sewing machines sewing masks for medical professionals
Gym members still paying dues so gym employees get paid
Hotel rooms provided for medical staff who get sick but can’t go home, lest they infect their families
Teachers learning on the go how to remote teach their students, including students with special needs
My church helping other churches broadcast an Easter sermon
My neighbors saying, “We’ve got toilet paper—do you need some?”
Talk about some good lines to share.
So, here’s what I’m challenging myself to do. I’m going to work on shutting up with the complaints about working from home with slow internet speed and having to homeschool my 5-year-old (who is also hungry every 5 seconds — dear Jesus, help me.) I’m going to temper the frustration of no gym, no movie theater, no coffees with friends, and no church gatherings. All that energy will be channeled into finding good lines in all this madness. I can pray. I can give. I can answer text messages. I can be available instead of hiding away.
I’m not saying I will succeed at this challenge at all.
This is not easy. For any of us.
But I see hope peeking over the shoulder of a dark demon. Hope shaking its fist at fear and saying, “Not on my watch.” Hope stirring me up to something new. Hope rooted in the fact that resurrection morning is coming. It’s not that far away.
Say something good. Do something good. Be tender as our invisible fears are now in full view. Be the one someone else can count on today. Create good lines for the benefit of those around you.