What happens when you’re not the one in control {Part 2}

Looking for part 1 of the story? Click here. Then read on for more stories about my recent travels.

I was not near the front of the plane, and I was in a window seat. But my seatmates, the cruise couple, graciously let me out with my carry-on bag, and the flight attendants asked nicely that anyone who didn’t have a connecting flight stay seated and let others off the plane who needed to make a connection. I held my phone and checked the clock numerous times. Theoretically, I should make it.

The aisle cleared and I thanked the crew, who had professionally and graciously handled a plane full of grumblers, and I quickly scanned the terminal for directions to my gate. A friend who travels frequently told me the Charlotte airport is bigger than it needs to be, and his assessment was not wrong.

Samuel Sosina | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Samuel Sosina | Creative Commons | via unsplash

I did not run or sprint because I also hadn’t eaten anything more than my pastry from the early morning and a nutty Larabar (huge shoutout to Larabar! They sustained my hunger needs!) and I didn’t think passing out in the airport would aid my travel situation.

I weaved my way through travelers moving in all directions. I fast-walked on the moving sidewalk things to make my way to the farthest reaches of the farthest terminal. (Really?) I kept checking my clock and kept casting a quick glance at the posted schedules, worried that because the flight was already late that it might take off earlier than I was anticipating.

Sweating through my clothes, my calves screaming, (because it was also in the teens in Philadelphia and I was wearing layers and it was not that cold in Charlotte; also boots), I pulled up to the agent at the gate.

Breathless, I told him, “I just got an e-mail that told me I was on this flight.”

He took my name and looked it up.

“I’ve been waiting for you to check in.”

“I literally just got off the plane.”

“Oh, where’d you fly from?”

I couldn’t even answer his question.

“Philly?” he suggested.

“Yes,” I said.

And then I had a boarding ticket in hand for a flight that was just about to board. I could hardly contain my joy. I was hungry and tired but I would get to Memphis before dark, like I’d planned. Because I still had 2 1/2 hours of driving when I landed in Memphis and I wasn’t excited about driving through Arkansas and rural Missouri in the dark.

The flight to Memphis was uneventful, save for my seat mate who fell asleep and almost landed in my lap as her head drooped lower and lower. I had to tap her on the shoulder for our final descent so she could put her laptop away.

Once I’d left the plane in Memphis, it was another long walk to the rental car area. And part of that walk was outside, which probably isn’t a problem most of the time in Memphis, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 degrees. I had frozen fingers by the time I got into the rental.

With the keyless key to a Nissan Sentra in hand, I pulled out of the Memphis airport and cruised toward Missouri via Arkansas. I thought about stopping for a bite to eat, but I had the Larabars and a little bit of water and I wanted to get there. To see my family and just stop moving for a few minutes.

It was a long, straight drive through a state I can only assume is beautiful in another season. Brown stretches of land surrounded me, though its state motto boasted “the natural state.” My radio choices for much of the trip were “country” and “more country.” But I made do.

I pulled into the motel where my parents were staying at a little after 5:30 p.m. central time, a long day not over yet but the traveling part was done. I ate my fill of grief food at my grandma’s house and headed to bed earlier than usual. I had made it, and I’d had little to do with the timing.

Two days later when the time came to travel back, the weather threatened to disrupt my plans again. And not long after I woke up, my husband texted me asking what he needed to do to call our daughter off of school because she’d woke up puking. Talk about being not in control. I was hundreds of miles away and I couldn’t get home any faster to help out. Or so I thought. But we’ll get there.

I left my family at 7:30 a.m., giving myself plenty of time to get back to Memphis, to stop to fill the rental car with gas, to get through security and print my boarding pass, and maybe get a bite to eat before my 12:50 p.m. flight back to Charlotte.

The drive was not any more interesting the second time, though I did have to make two stops this time, which broke up the monotony some. And then there was the added weekday traffic.

I sighed with relief when I pulled the rental car into its spot. There’s something about completing the first leg of a journey that makes the rest of the journey seem possible.

Then it was back to the long walk to the terminal and a visit to the kiosk, which told me that I could not print my boarding pass because my flight had a delay. I hadn’t even had time to check because I was so early. I’d hoped to make it through security and grab some lunch. (Are you sensing a theme here?) The US Airways agent waved me over and asked for my name and flight. Then she said some magic words.

“I can get you on a direct flight to Philly, landing at 2:55, getcha home about 3 hours early.”

I paused before saying “yes” because in the original plan, my husband wouldn’t be able to leave to get me until after school, so I was calculating the number of hours I would have to sit in the Philly airport.

“You’ll be waiting for a ride?” she said. I nodded. “Well, at least you’ll be there.”

“Let’s do it,” I said.

Then she printed me a pass, and I looked at the time, and once again, I had about 30 minutes until boarding time and still needed to go through security. (An aside: going through security is not really as grueling a process as I imagine it is. It takes time, but it’s not awful.) I did, then I found my gate and maybe even pinched myself to make sure this was real. I was on a completely different flight leaving and arriving earlier than I’d thought. I texted my husband and my mom and then thought I better call my husband before I got on the plane because I wouldn’t be available for a couple of hours.

He was wrangling children at the grocery store buying supplies for a stomach bug: crackers and ginger ale and the like. He promised to get there as soon as they could.

I settled in for the flight. I had no seat mate but my Kindle, and I finished the book I’d started a few days before on the trip. It was a smooth and relaxing flight.

Until we landed.

Then we sat at the gate for 20 minutes waiting for I don’t know what. Something to do with the ground crew. Then we waited in the jetway for our larger carry-on bags (this was a small plane, only 13 rows of seats) for another 20 minutes because of a short-staffed airport crew or something. My plan to get something to eat while waiting for my family to arrive was again thwarted as they made it to the cell phone lot before I could leave with my bag.

So, hungry, tired and grateful to be home, I made my way through the terminals to the pick-up point and eased into the passenger seat of our van. I was home before I was supposed to leave Charlotte. It was daylight, and though my husband and I both showed signs of exhaustion, we were together and could help each other through till bedtime.

Before this trip, it had been a long time since I’d done something like this on my own. Probably 10 years or more ago. I think I found a part of myself again, and maybe those are thoughts for another post on another day.

I think I lost a little bit of myself, too. That part that says if I don’t plan everything out to the last detail, then it will all go wrong. That I don’t have to be in control of all the details. I learned, or re-learned, I can trust other people. I can trust God. (I’m not saying God showed me any more favor than any other traveler. I don’t think I’m that special. But I do know I can trust Him to work things out, even without my help.)

I found out that when I’m not in control, it’s not the end of the world.

It might even be a beginning.

What happens when you’re not the one in control {Part 1}

When you’re a writer and you set out on an unplanned adventure and then return to your regular life full of schedules and sickness and responsibilities, where do you even start with all the stories about what you saw and experienced?

This was my dilemma in the van on the way home from the airport. I’d talked to my husband by phone each day but I hadn’t told the kids much about my trip while I was on it. They sat in the back seats, one of them battling a stomach bug, the other one buzzing on a blue slushy high, and I asked if they wanted to hear stories of my trip. Of course, they said, “Yes!” because they love stories, both the telling and the hearing.

And I couldn’t decide where to start. (Also, I’m not a great “out loud” storyteller. I’m better with words on a page, or a screen.)

I had so many things to tell them. I have so many things to tell you. And to tell them all at once would be overwhelming, so we’ll take it one step at a time.

When I decided to take this trip to the Midwest to be with my grandma and family for my step-grandpa’s funeral, I thought it was because I wanted to do it for them. As it turns out, I needed this trip for me.

I suspected when I booked this trip that I would have little control over how it all worked out.

And if I hadn’t suspected it, the snow on Saturday would have confirmed it. The day before I was to leave, our area experienced a smallish snowstorm, but it was big enough to mess with a bunch of flights. I would discover this on Sunday when I arrived at the airport.

We woke up super early on Sunday morning. My flight still said it was scheduled on time and we didn’t know what the roads would be like, so we dragged our kids out of bed at 4 a.m., loaded up the car and began the slow journey to Philadelphia. The roads weren’t impassable, but they weren’t in good condition, so our trip took a bit longer than expected. We pulled up to the departures drop-off and I kissed my family good-bye while holding back tears. Because if I had started crying then, I might not have stopped.

I walked into the airport with purpose and some semblance of confidence though I think I was still shaking a little on the inside. There was no turning back, and I didn’t want to, so I spurred myself forward, first to the bathroom because you know, two-hour drive, and then up the stairs to the security line, the one place that makes me most anxious in an airport.

It was a breeze, really. And before I knew it, I was rolling through the terminal, looking for my gate, then off to find coffee and breakfast. I was plenty early for my flight.

As boarding time drew near, there was little activity at the gate. I wasn’t in an extreme hurry, but I did have only an hour layover in Charlotte to catch a connecting flight to Memphis. And that was if everything ran on time. It soon became clear that we weren’t going to board on time. Eventually, we filled the plane and waited for the ground crew to remove some fuel from our airplane, which had been ready to fly to Denver the night before. While they were doing that, the flight attendants discovered that the bathrooms on the plane weren’t working, so we waited for someone to fix that. I settled in with my book because frankly, even if I didn’t make it to my destination, I was enjoying multiple hours in a row away from my house without responsibility to little people. I was already on vacation.

Chris Brignola | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Chris Brignola | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Unlike the couple next to me who were desperately trying to get to Florida to catch their cruise ship before it left port. They had already had a flight canceled the night before and they, too, had a tight connection in Charlotte.

The waiting dragged on. And then we were told that we were going to have to re-board on a different airplane because this one wasn’t ready to fly. Everyone off this plane, back out to the gate, line up at the gate next door and board a different plane. It was now almost two hours after our scheduled departure and we still hadn’t left the ground. I was going to miss my connecting flight. But there wasn’t much I could do about it, and I didn’t see the point of trying to call the airline. Everyone else on the plane was trying to do that and couldn’t get through.

I decided to wait. And trust. (Believe me when I say this is so unlike me.)

While we sat on the second plane waiting to be cleared for takeoff, I got an e-mail that said I’d been “re-accommodated” on a flight that would leave the next morning. No way was that accommodating for me, but I decided to wait till I got to Charlotte to talk to someone about finding another flight to the Midwest that would leave the same day.

Finally, we pushed away from the gate and headed to the de-icing pad.

Have you ever seen this before? I took a picture just to show my son. He would totally love this job. Someday. As a grownup.

deicer

And then we were airborne, on our way to Charlotte and beyond. Few of us on the plane knew what would be waiting for us in Charlotte. Another flight. Another delay. Another snag in the planning.

The couple next to me was upset. They’d paid for a week-long cruise. They were going to miss some of it, if not all of it. They wanted to get off the plane. They wanted to stay on. They had so many options and none of them were good. The male half of the couple described the last two days as “the worst two days of my life.” I thought maybe he’d had a pretty good life, then, if this was as bad as it ever got. I kept my mouth shut, though, because no one likes a smart aleck when they’re already stressed.

I almost felt guilty that I wasn’t as crazy stressed or complaining like the rest of the passengers. But, seriously, what could I do? I couldn’t control the weather or the ground crew’s efficiency or the safety of the plane. I couldn’t make it fly any faster, though our pilot assured us he had the airplane equivalent of the “pedal to the metal” to get us to Charlotte.

We landed, and immediately we all turned our phones back on. To my surprise, I had a new message from the airline telling me my flight out of Charlotte was delayed. A flight I had no idea I was even on. We had landed at just a few minutes before 1 p.m., about 2 1/2 hours after our scheduled arrival. The next flight out of Charlotte was scheduled for a 1:08 departure, now delayed until 1:38. I had roughly 40 minutes to get off this plane and make it to a gate two terminals away to catch an afternoon flight out of Charlotte.

Unaware that my flight plans had changed while I was in the air, I could have spent the time worrying or trying to figure out a solution. Instead, I let the airline do their job.

At a few minutes after 1 p.m., it was time for me to do my part. I had another plane to catch.

To be continued tomorrow.

When maybe my life is too safe

I didn’t plan it. I never do. Planning to do something spontaneous and out of my comfort zone is some kind of oxymoron, right? Is it even possible to plan to be spontaneous? Probably not.

But my grandma lost her husband, my stepgrandfather, this week, and I felt a restless stirring in my soul to try to go to her for the funeral. I searched travel websites for flights to all the major cities within a couple of hundred miles of her home in rural southern Missouri. It didn’t look like it would work. And then it did. A delay in funeral plans because of weather meant that our schedule would be a little freer and I could leave my family in Pennsylvania for a few days and go to my family in the Midwest.

The trip starts tomorrow, and I am part excited, part fearful. Adventure is not my middle name. Comfortable. Predictable. Safe. Those are more my style.

And yet something about the planning of this trip has reminded me that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Life comes with no guarantees, and a safe life is not immune to trouble or hardship. Nor is it a pathway to life.

“A ship in harbor is safe but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd

Nick Diamantidis | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Nick Diamantidis | Creative Commons | via unsplash

“I am tired of living a safe and predictable life.”

I said those words. Out loud. To my husband. As if I needed to defend my decision to make this trip, which includes three airports, four airplanes, varying weather patterns, and 300 miles (round trip) of driving solo. He hardly blinked when I suggested the trip.

My mother, on the other hand, is understandably worried. Before I’d even hit “purchase” on the airplane tickets, she was asking me all the questions I’d asked myself. She’s my mother, and she worries about me. I worry about me, too.

But I’m learning to ask myself some different questions.

Like, “What is the goal of my life?” Is it to get out of here alive? Because I will fail at that. And if it’s to live as safe and comfortably as possible, I will die a premature death from trying to protect all the things and people I care about from harm. There are only so many burdens my shoulders can carry, only so many things I can control. (I do not live this out perfectly. I’m already preparing for the possibility of flight delays and missed connections.)

Leaving my household for a few days not only means disrupting my level of comfort but also puts me in an extreme position of trust. I cannot control the weather, the airplanes, the timing of flights. I cannot oversee my husband’s care of the children while I’m gone. I cannot ensure that everything runs smoothly while I’m gone. I can’t even guarantee I’ll make it to the funeral on Monday. But I’m sure going to try.

Does this leave me anxious?

Yes.

But sometimes so does going to the grocery store.

Living a safe life doesn’t give me life. Often the opposite is true. <Click to tweet>

The times I’ve felt most alive, most in tune with purpose and fulfillment, are the times I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, the times that forced me to learn and grow and fight.

Drifting wherever the current of my day leads may give me a false sense of security, the idea that everything is fine and always will be, that this is life. But the moment I have to paddle to keep from plunging over the waterfall, or kick with everything I have to swim for shore when my boat capsizes, that’s the moment I realize that I want to live.

Monika Majkowska | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Monika Majkowska | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Yes, the harbor is safe. It’s predictable (mostly). It’s protected.

The open sea is wild. Full of unknowns. And great beauty.

It’s okay to put out to sea once in a while. And it’s okay to come back to the harbor. I don’t think our lives can be lived all one way or the other. We need safe places of rest and recuperation. But we also need an adventure now and then. If for no other reason than to remind us of how much life we have in us.

So, my solo adventure awaits. It is small in comparison to others, but for me, it is big. And I’m of the mind that one small adventure leads to increasingly greater ones. (Have I mentioned that we’re going to Kenya later this year?)

One of my favorite quotes, of late, is this one from a book I recently read: “Fear does not start to fade until you take the step that you think you can’t.” So, until I step out of the car at Airport #1, I will have fear. And it won’t totally leave, I am sure, until I step back into my car a few days later.

Can you relate? What was the last adventurous thing you did? Is there a step you need to take for fear to fade? 

What happened when I started talking about depression

I almost didn’t write it.

I have a tendency to over-share in the spirit of openness, especially on Facebook. The introvert in me doesn’t always filter my posts and because I don’t have to look anyone in the face to gauge their reaction, I often post first, think later. And sometimes, if I’m honest, I’m looking for people to back me up in my opinions.

“Oh, yeah?” I think when I’m trying to defend a position. “Let’s see what Facebook has to say about that.”

But I don’t want to talk to you today about social media etiquette or common sense rules for online relationships.

I want to talk to you today about what happened when I started talking about depression. Specifically, what happened when I started talking about my depression.

First, a disclaimer: I’ve only recently started accepting my diagnosis. And there are people who have had longer, more brutal struggles with mental illness than me and they are far more qualified to talk about it. And I am not advocating a one-size-fits-all solution for depression or any other mental illness. This is not a debate about medication or the spiritual side of depression and anxiety. This is simply one story from one person.

Continue reading this post, my monthly contribution, at Putting on the New.

When you just need a firm place to stand

We inch along like turtles in a rabbit race, two small hands gripping mine. Back and forth, back and forth as the music blares and the rainbow of lights swirls around us and the more experienced skaters weave around us like we are part of an obstacle course.

The two hands gripped tighter as their feet failed them and gravity pulled them toward the floor. Me, the only sure-footed, non-roller skating one, held them up as best I could. They giggled as their butts hit the floor again and again.

Eventually the older one, our girl child, who had been invited to the skating party, found a rhythm that worked for her. She and a friend stuck to each other and circled the inside of the rink at their beginner’s pace. They fell. They got back up. They kept skating.

Meanwhile, the boy and I stuck to the inside ring set aside for beginning skaters. I walked. He moved his feet back and forth while wobbling and trying to fall. I think he liked the falling more than the skating. I gripped his hand, pulled him up and kept walking. If we’d had another hour, he would have gotten the hang of it.

I watched as other parents laced up their own skates before taking their kids onto the roller rink floor. Part of me wanted to skate, too. But mostly I was glad to be in control of my own feet so I could help the kids learn.

“I waited patiently upon the Lord; he stopped to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.” — Psalm 40:1-2

It is winter and the weather is finally showing it. Some mornings we wake to snow or ice on the roads, the driveway, the sidewalks. Some days, it sneaks up on us, like yesterday when we stepped outside at 4 in the afternoon to find icy patches on the walk leading up to our house, on the driveway and the road. We slipped and slid as we searched for footing to cross to the parking lot where we’d pick up our daughter from school. There were patches, here and there, of grass or snow that helped us along on the path.

But our steps were cautious.

We held onto each other, to trees, to the car.

Falling was possible. And we had each other.

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”

I feel, sometimes, that there is no such thing as a firm place to stand. Literally or figuratively. That all of life is changing, shifting, flowing, moving. And me, along with it.

Luca Zanon | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Luca Zanon | Creative Commons | via unsplash

This does not bother me as much as I think it should. I’m not big on change. I like things predictable. Planned. Expectations to be met. (I don’t ask for much, right?) I don’t mind new things or innovation or creative solutions, but I often take my time getting used to them. And then something else changes and I have to get used to that all over again.

I’m certainly not quick to change, but I am changing. That’s not bad.

But sometimes in the changing, I feel like I’m falling. Or slipping. Or being un-done.

There’s a sifting as well as a shifting and I’m not sure what will remain when it’s finished. (Is it ever finished?)

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”

I do not easily ask for help. This is most recently illustrated by a middle-of-the-night episode last week.

It is 2 a.m. I have just made a trip to the bathroom. My stomach started feeling queasy so I went to the kitchen for a drink of water. I set the water cup down and my vision got dark and spotty, a sure sign that I was lightheaded or about to pass out. I sat down, hoping it would pass. Then I decided I’d rather lie down, so I started walking down the hallway back to the bedroom. I didn’t make it.

When I came to, my husband was yelling, “Are you okay?” I was on the floor in the doorway, and my head hurt. I tried to get up. He told me to stay down. “Did I pass out?” I said. I lay there for a few minutes trying to make sense of what happened. When I finally got up, he checked my head for a bump. He found paint chips in my hair from where I hit the doorway. He helped me up, and I had to go back to the bathroom. I passed out a second time while on the toilet. (Sorry if that’s TMI.) My husband said my name several times before I heard him. I made it back to bed. We stayed awake a little longer. I didn’t sleep much that night, probably for good reason. (Long story short: I reacted to some medication. All other tests came back normal.)

“Not to add to your pain,” my husband said, “but next time, just call for me.”

Help.

Why is it so hard to say? I could have stayed in the kitchen. I could have sat or lay on the floor. I could have called my husband’s name. But I didn’t. I tried to take care of myself and not bother his sleep. And because of that, he took a day off of work the next day so he could be with me in case it happened again. (And so he could drive me to the doctor.) I suffered the effects of that fall for days afterward, and my head still has a tender spot on it.

Maybe things would have been different if I’d asked for help.

Asking for helping is admitting that your footing isn’t sure. That the ground you are standing on is shaky, at best.

Nicholas Swanson | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Nicholas Swanson | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Whether you’re in need of a physical hand to help you learn how to roller skate or walk across an icy driveway, or a figurative hand to help you learn how to walk through a trying time or learn a new of way doing life, ask for help.

It’s advice I need to take more often. I’m learning, I am. But still I think I can hold on just a little longer without inconveniencing anyone.

“You’re worth it,” my therapist tells me when I need to do things in my life to take care of me.

So are you, you know?

We’re all stumbling around in some way or another, looking for a firm place to stand. Don’t be afraid to reach out for a nearby hand to steady yourself until you’re able to walk again.

We are here for each other. I believe that more and more. And we are not meant to walk alone.

When the path to ‘whole’ takes an unexpected turn

I will confess to having high expectations and a buoyant hope when I began the year focusing on the word “whole.” ow_whole

After all, it sounds so good, this idea that after years and years of feeling broken and worn down that maybe this would be the year some of those things could be mended and repaired, that the areas I’ve felt were lacking would somehow find completion.

We are one month into the year, and I am now discovering that this journey to becoming whole is going to be a lot harder than I thought. And sometimes it feels like this:

Why wasn’t she ready to fully release all the pent-up sorrow and pain? Because she feared if she fully acknowledged what she’d been holding inside for so long, it would overwhelm her, flood her, and she’d break. She wasn’t strong enough. She was getting by, but healing took work, courage, strength she didn’t have. — Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey, p. 166

But, I’m also discovering that just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, it might make it that much better than if it were easy.

Tom Butler | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Tom Butler | Creative Commons | via unsplash

I still have hopes for transformation this year. I’m taking positive steps toward wholeness, like counseling and medication and acknowledging my needs and grieving losses. But on the way forward, I’m finding that I have to look back. And sometimes in looking back, old hurts resurface, and wounds I thought were healed prove that they were only temporarily numbed.

As I’ve sought “whole” I’ve stumbled onto a lot of “broken.” And I’m seeing that this will be the first step in my healing–to break again. Not as a consequence of poor decisions but as an act of healing.

Sometimes on the road to healing, you must reopen an old wound. It will hurt again, maybe as much as or more than it did when it was first inflicted, but as you reconnect with and embrace the healing process, it will begin to hurt less. … That’s the only way it can heal. — Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner, p. 318

For the deepest wounds I’ve suffered, I realize I’ve merely done the barest amount of work to survive. I thought I had healed, but I only covered them up. Like a broken bone improperly set, I haven’t healed the right way and so I must break again so that I can restore full function to the broken parts.

It’s terrible. Sometimes.

It hurts. But it’s not pointless.

And though it’s early in the process I can already feel the difference in the healing.

I covered over my hurts, my heart, my feelings which kept the bad things from hurting but also held some of them in. And it kept the good things from penetrating the barrier.

Sometimes, when you’re broken, light shines through the cracks. And the pieces you thought were holding you together get rearranged to make something else.

I was so moved by this song and video when a friend blogged about this idea of being shattered. I might have to add it to my list of theme music for the year. I’m also now totally obsessed with this violinist.


My pain and sorrows have festered in the darkness, and it’s time to let the light in.

But light hurts sometimes, too. When you’ve been in darkness, light has a way of shocking your sense of sight. Blinding almost.

It’s the same with the kind of light that penetrates the darkness in your soul. One of the hardest things about my therapy sessions is when my counselor says life-affirming things to me. Things like “You are strong and brave” and “You are worth it.”

Those words sneak through the cracks and light up the darkness and even when I try to push them away, they settle in. And push the cracks open a little more.

I’m no gardener so I don’t know what kinds of things thrive in the darkness, but I know that my heart is not one of them.

Leon Ephraïm | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Leon Ephraïm | Creative Commons | via unsplash

I need light.

And sometimes the light needs an opening.

And sometimes the opening has to come through a crack or a break.

Falling, breaking, failing–it all used to scare me because I thought it meant the end.

But I think that’s wrong.

More often than not, the breaking is just the beginning.

Are you pursuing a OneWord this year? How have you seen it working in your life?

For more information on the OneWord365 movement, visit oneword365.com.

What if what I want is right in front of me?

I’ve been thinking about grass lately. You know, the typically green kind that surrounds my house. Maybe that’s because it’s currently buried under a few inches of snow and even if it wasn’t it would be more brown than green.

Winter.

Kind of unavoidable unless I choose to live in some tropical location and that just wouldn’t work at all.

I can handle winter mostly because I know that spring is sure to follow.

Even if I can’t see the grass, I know it’s there. And even if the trees are brown and gray, I know it won’t be long until they pop with the kind of color  that’s almost indescribable.

There’s peace in that.

Some of you might remember  that I get a bit restless sometimes. Even if I’m happy about our present circumstances, I start to dream, imagine, wonder what life would be like somewhere else. In some other set of circumstances.

It’s the old “grass is always greener” syndrome and I am not immune to its charms.

green pastures

Dave Robinson | Creative Commons | via unsplash—

Just this week, we had that awkward “where is home?” discussion again. We sometimes refer to Illinois as home and sometimes we call Pennsylvania home and it’s terribly confusing, even to us.

No matter where we are right now, if I see a home for sale I almost always look it up just out of curiosity. I guess I’m nosy or HGTV deprived. I made the “mistake” of asking my nosy questions out loud in my parents’ hearing which prompted all kinds of not-so-subtle hints about properties that were available practically next door.

Even I began to wonder: What are we still doing in Pennsylvania? Should we move back to Illinois?

My heart tugs toward this option any time I spend time with my family because it is harder than I ever thought it would be to live 800 miles from home, even as a grown-up with great friends and great community. My heart seems permanently torn between two places.

But God made it clear, as He always does, that now is not the time to go anywhere. The very day I was plotting our return to Illinois, I read the story of Abraham and Sarah in the Bible, the couple who leaves what is familiar to go to a place that is unknown all because God says. And while their story is not ours completely (no baby in old age, please and thank you), it is the one story that has been consistent in our journey toward whatever we’re journeying toward.

So, when people ask us if we’d move back to Illinois in a heartbeat if we had no ties here, our answer is complicated. It isn’t jobs or schools or church or even relationships that keep us here.

It is God. (So, if you need someone to blame, you can go straight to the top!)

Believe me, I’m not always okay with that.

But I also can’t deny it.

When I want to “go,” He says “stay.”

And I protest that maybe I’d like to see what that grass over there is like. It might be greener than the grass we have here.

And though I know that I need to tend my own proverbial grass if I want it to be greener, the lesson doesn’t always stick.

This week, though, a familiar verse from the Psalms settled anew in my soul.

Maybe you know it.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.”

It’s the second verse of Psalm 23, and until this week, I just passed right over it.

I’ve heard the pastures described as not exactly lush or overwhelmingly green, but that’s not what stuck with me this time.

No, it’s the whole “lie down” thing.

 Not pass through. Not run across. Not stand and admire and be on my way.

Lie. Down.

Another version says “he lets me rest in green meadows.”

I can’t remember the last time I lay in the grass looking up at the sky. Who has time for that kind of juvenile behavior? Plus, I’d probably get bugs and dirt in my hair. And the ground might be cold.

But seriously, this concept of resting, even lying down, in this grass right here, was kind of mind-blowing.

Dave Robinson | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Dave Robinson | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Basically, I hear God saying: Look around you. There is a green pasture right here, and it’s all for you. Rest. Lie down, even. There’s no need to rush on to the next thing. I’ll let you know when it’s time to get up and move on.

There’s peace in that, too, even if it makes me worry because I’m not the one in control.

I can’t promise that I’ll never pine for greener grass over there somewhere, but I feel like this is a breakthrough. I’m going to rest in the green grass right here. Or try to.

What about you? How easy is it for you to rest in your circumstances?

What helps you remain content with God’s plan?

 

When music takes me back in time (and I’m not sure I want to leave the past)

We’d been away from church for a couple of weeks, and I always forget how dry and empty I am when we go through a stretch like that where we’re traveling on Sundays or visiting family. I think it’ll be no big deal and when we’re finally back with our church family it hits me. Then, all of a sudden, I find myself sobbing in the middle of singing. Tears of gratitude to be back. Tears of sorrow at my own pitiful state. Tears of joy because I am safe and there is hope.

I’m learning to never leave home for church without some tissues tucked in my bag because I’m sure to need them if I don’t have them.

So, it was all of those things that had tears streaming down my cheeks at church on Sunday. But it was something else, as well.

It was the songs themselves. And the older I get the more I believe that songs are a portal to another time and place. If a book can sweep me into another time and place, one I’ve never lived, then songs have the same power to connect me with my former self.

Joshua Earle | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Joshua Earle | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Our song time opened with one we sang at church camp, where my husband and I served as staff to high schoolers who were dealing with a lot of the same issues we struggled with as 20-somethings. That song was followed by one that broke me in college, just a year or two after I’d opened my life to Jesus’s leading.

And in an instant I was no longer in the middle of sanctuary in the middle of winter crying with my husband by side and children nearby. I was sweating in a simple chapel in the woods, surrounded by teenagers jumping, shouting, passionately declaring that God was the cry of their heart. I was flat on my face in the basement of a college chapel, undone by my sin and the love of a King who would sacrifice Himself so I could live. I was a girl again, a decade or more younger, with fresh hopes and dreams who couldn’t imagine knowing any other life than one that had Jesus in it.

Snapped back to my present state, I cried again, wondering where that girl had gone. She had no idea what was to come, and had she been given a clue, I think she would have ignored it as impossible. I cried because there are days I want to be that girl again. To believe the best. To still have hope and dreams. To be passionately pursuing the God who changed everything.

And there are days I would never want to be her again because she was so naive and unaware of the world around her. Of the hard realities of life. She knew little about what it means to persevere, to forgive, to endure. Hers was a simple faith that didn’t always ask questions. She was motivated by good behavior and what others thought and her grown-up counterpart wouldn’t trade the faith she has now, as hard as it is, for what she had before.

The girl who sang those songs years ago and the woman who sings them now, they’re one. I cannot be who I am today without that girl from long ago. Even if I sometimes pity her. Even if I sometimes wish it could all be different.

But I can’t go back. I can only go forward. And words like this spur me on:

There is a kind of bravery born from understanding that what lies in front of you is merely the end result of every choice you’ve ever made, and there is nothing left but to follow that path to its end. (Billy Coffey, In the Heart of the Dark Wood, p. 348)

And,

I was learning the secrets of life: that you could become the woman you’d dared to dream of being, but to do so you were going to have to fall in love with your own crazy, ruined self. (Anne Lamott, Small Victories, p. 101)

This is where I find myself when the tears pool and my present self fades. When I remember who I was and compare her to who I am. I am needing to leave the old behind, to follow this path to its end, even if it’s not the path I would have chosen, and accept the pieces of myself that I want to hide and dismiss, those places where I see only wrong and not enough and different.

I want to love my “crazy, ruined self.” The me I was and the me I am now.

This is what I want from the year ahead. This is what I mean when I say I want to be “whole.”

What was the last song that took you back to another time and place?

When what I need is less not more

“Mommy, what did you get for Christmas?”

We were unpacking our suitcases and the boxes full of presents we’d carried with us to and from a visit to family in the Midwest over the Christmas and New Year holiday. My 5-year-old son had a long list of answers to this question for himself, as did his sister. I answered him honestly.

“That pretty necklace from Daddy. Time with family. A little bit of money. A coffee mug.” I listed a few things of importance, not wanting to dwell on what I did or didn’t get at Christmas. Sometimes, it’s hard, even as an adult, to remember that the holiday isn’t about gifts and getting.

“And what else?”

I think I told him that I didn’t need anything else, that all of those things were enough. I hope that somewhere in his preschool mind he sees that it’s okay to not get at Christmas.

Our Christmas plans were different this year. We took an airplane to visit family. We spent time in Colorado with family. The kids and I stayed extra time while my husband returned to our home to work.

And one thing people asked us was: “So, did you take all the presents with you?”

Today, I’m blogging over at Putting on the New. You can read the rest of this post here.

The blessing and burden of family

Four generations, age 5 to 89, set out on a wild west adventure the day after Christmas in a beast of a rental RV through snow and cold, across 900 miles (one way).

Why?

One word: family.

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We spent twice as much time, maybe more, on the road than we did in Denver, which probably makes us crazy, but love is a strong motivator.

It’s been a month since my uncle died, since my grandparents lost a son, my mom a brother, my cousin his dad, and while I don’t know what purpose our trip accomplished, I know it wasn’t a mistake, even with the bumps along the way.

Bumps like snowstorms that delayed travel on multiple fronts and days. And a kid who spent two nights puking in my cousin’s house for unexplainable reasons. And bumps like navigating the emotional states of 12 people in various stages of grief and weariness, including two children who can’t be expected to sit for terribly long periods of time.

On paper, this trip was a disaster in the making. Or a grand adventure full of memories. In truth, it was both and neither.

Some of my favorite things about the trip are not extraordinary, awe-inspiring moments (though I do enjoy the Rocky Mountains). They are ordinary moments of time that I wouldn’t know I was missing had they not happened.

Moments like when two strangers at two different restaurants shook my grandfather’s hand because of the “World War II veteran” hat he wore. A simple gesture that reminds me why this 89-year-old man is important beyond our family.

And how my cousin and my son bonded over Transformers. And my aunt and daughter discovered their shared love of dolls and doll clothing.

How I was transported to the past watching my daughter play a card game with my grandma. It was my childhood playing out in front of me.

How normal and grown-up it felt to go out with my brother and cousin and two of our three spouses. wpid-psx_20141228_091141.jpgThe three of us used to spend summers together in my hometown, cooking up adventure and a bit of trouble. Those meetings have been fewer and farther between as we’ve grown up and put more physical distance between us. Weddings have brought us together in the past few years but it was fun to spend normal time together, learning about each other again and just being in the same place.

On Sunday, we sat around in my uncle’s house eating pizza and cake and watching the Broncos. I wondered if this was a normal thing, to occupy the living space of a dead man, and to be celebrating, no less. (Three birthdays and a Broncos win.)

My uncle, he didn’t want a fuss over his death, didn’t want anyone to make an extreme effort to mourn him (well, we showed him!), but he cared about family in a way I didn’t fully appreciate.

He always sent cards for Thanksgiving and Christmas. He liked every status update and post I put on Facebook. He called on birthdays and holidays. Even as his days dwindled and the disease took him closer to death, he e-mailed to update us.

And when we would visit Colorado in years past, he loved to show us around, to point us to places we’d love, to host us in his home. I don’t have a lot of these memories. I’ll need to ask more questions to recover the details.

So I think we did right. I think my uncle would approve of us sitting together, eating his favorite pizza, celebrating birthdays in his house.

I don’t know much, if anything, about closing out a person’s life or the hole that never quite fills when they’re gone. I don’t know if our presence was helpful or stressful, a blessing or a burden. Maybe it was both. I know that family life is messy whether traveling or not and that sometimes extreme circumstances bring out the best and worst in people.

But at the end of the day, we’re still family.

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Bound by blood.

And love.

In good times and bad.