For the days when hope is too hard {and a preview of A.D. The Bible Continues}

So, it’s Holy Week, and a lot of people are writing about it, and I’m not sure I have anything meaningful to say about it. In fact, sometimes, I’m not sure what to do with Holy Week. I’m still relatively new to the church calendar and its seasons and I always want Lent and Holy Week to be special and sacred and yet I often fail to plan for either one.

I find myself wondering during Holy Week why we continue to tell the story of these days. Why we commemorate Good Friday when we know how it ends on Easter. And I know there is purpose in the telling and telling again because we forget and we need to pause and remember. But there always seems to be a lot of pressure to tell the story in a new way, to host an event or draw a crowd. Easter is a BIG DEAL for Christians and churches and it lasts far beyond Sunday morning, though I forget that, too.

In the midst of regular life–school and work and grocery shopping and laundry–Holy Week breaks in.

It’s a curious story from start to finish. The shouts of “hosanna.” The washing of feet. The breaking of bread. The talk of a new covenant. The betrayal. The trial. The crucifixion and death. The hopelessness and the waiting. The miraculous resurrection. It’s an emotional roller coaster when you think about how it played out the first time.

It helps me to remember that life is like that, too. Expectations. Thrills. Disappointments. Death of dreams. Questions and doubts. Miracles. Unimaginable newness.

I have to look hard in the Gospels to find those emotions and themes. Sometimes the story is too familiar.

So, I’m grateful when creative people can take familiar stories and rethink them. I’ve mentioned this before with biblical fiction books. And we recently had the chance to visit Sight and Sound Theatre in Lancaster to see Moses on stage. I come away from these experiences with a better understanding of biblical times.

And it happened again this week when I received the chance to watch the first episode of the upcoming TV series “A.D. The Bible Continues” through a perk from Klout.

Now, I missed the previous TV series about the Bible, but I heard great things about it. This is the continuation from Mark Burnett, Roma Downey and company, and while I was a bit skeptical (because sometimes the Bible on the big screen is cheesy or overly dramatic or just terribly done), I have to say that if the first episode is an indicator, then this will be a good series. The show premieres on Sunday on NBC, which is not coincidental timing, I’m sure, being that it is Easter, but the televised story begins on Good Friday.

I almost wish you could watch it before Sunday because the horror, shame and despair of Good Friday and the following day come through. The disciples are beyond disappointed. Confused. Unable to hope even when Mary begs them to wait at least three days before giving up. It is powerful and beautiful. I love seeing historical settings as they might have been. They help me to fill in the details the Bible leaves out and give me access to a world I otherwise couldn’t enter.

Like the clothing the elite women (Pilate’s wife and the High Priest’s wife) wear. It’s colorful and extravagant, almost reminiscent of medieval clothing. I forget that the rich and powerful would dress differently than the others, even in a culture from 2,000 years ago. The diversity of characters reminds me that it was a diverse culture. Not primarily Caucasian. And not all young or old. Peter and John and mother Mary and Mary Magdalene all look different than I would have imagined them. And that’s a good thing.

And the words that aren’t recorded in the Bible give depth to the characters. One line that sticks out to me is one Peter says the day after Jesus is crucified.

What difference does any of this now make that he’s dead?

This is the question I must ask myself. What difference does Jesus’ death make? And what difference does His resurrection make? I look forward to watching the second episode because the first ends on a hopeful note but doesn’t take us all the way there.

Hope is hard sometimes, especially when all we see is death and chaos. I can hardly read news stories or scroll through Facebook without feeling like the world is one super messed up place and what does my faith matter anyway? What difference does it make?

Holy Week reminds me that despair is not the end of the story. That hope is hard when you don’t know the ending. But hope and love and life are coming and I can be a part of that story.

I don’t know where this series is going to go, but I know from reading the New Testament that the resurrection doesn’t mean happily ever after, either. If anything, the disciples’ lives become more difficult. But because they have a reason, because they see the difference Jesus’ life and death and resurrection make, they no longer live without hope.

That is why we tell and retell the story. Because we live in a world without a lot of hope. And we who believe Christ died and Christ is risen are hope-bearers in this world.

Hope, even when it’s hard, makes all the difference.

For more about the TV series, go to http://www.nbc.com/ad-the-bible-continues.

Two things I learned from journalism that help me navigate life

If we haven’t known each other for 8 or more years, you might not know that once upon a time I was a journalist–a newspaper reporter (later a copy editor and page designer) for daily publications in small towns in Illinois. I gave all that up when we moved to Pennsylvania and I became a stay-at-home mom, so sometimes it feels like a different life entirely.

A funny thing happened last week–my name and picture made it into the local paper where I live now. It was a brief mention because I’m co-teaching a workshop at a writers conference with a talented writing friend. I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until people started telling me they saw my picture in the paper. I guess I haven’t been as vocal about being a writer as I could have been.

A decade ago, in my hometown, it was normal (and sometimes creepy) for random people to say to me, “Aren’t you that girl that writes for the paper?” or something similar. My picture was in the paper weekly. My name, almost daily. I had forgotten what that was like. (Not that I’m looking for a repeat of that experience!)

Journalism was a difficult career for me. I’m an introvert (though I don’t know that I would have known to call it that at the time). I was fresh out of college and not particularly happy about being back in my hometown. I hated conflict and sometimes had to create it because sources or public officials were not cooperating. There were painful times when something I wrote ticked off an entire community and I became their target for hateful words. (One time I couldn’t answer my phone for a whole day because every time it rang, someone was yelling at me.) There was also one embarrassing time when I misidentified a girl as a boy. (It’s a long story but one I’ll never forget.)

Yet when I look back on my somewhat brief career in journalism (Is 8 years brief? I don’t know. It was longer than I expected to stay in the business.) I’m almost nostalgic. (But I could not do the same job today in our social media saturated world. No, thank you.) I can see how beneficial it was for me, not only as a writer but as a person living life.

Alejandro Escamilla | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Alejandro Escamilla | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Two things stand out to me, especially on days when all I see is an overwhelmingly long list of things to do in a variety of life’s arenas. (P.S. Not my real workstation pictured. I would love to return to my Mac ways.)

The first is that there is always work to do, so do something.

I can’t ever remember a time I was bored while working in journalism. Well, maybe once or twice. It was not a large city, after all. But my work was almost never done. There was always another call to make, another story to write, another idea to pursue. I hated Mondays because all I could see was the long list of unfinished work, and by Friday, I might have accomplished most of it but I could always get a jump on the next thing. Breaking news happens fast but follow-ups take longer. Feature articles are always planned ahead of time so the designers can work their magic. “Done” was a dirty word because then an editor would find something else for you to do.

It could have been so overwhelming that I just did nothing until I needed to. But I was constantly switching from one activity to the next. I would write a bit of this story then answer a phone call from a source for another story before leaving my desk to go to an interview with a source for yet a third story. Maybe I’d get back to that first story later, but I might have to take a few hours off before heading to a government meeting later that night.

Yes, I got paid and it was part of the job, but it was still stressful. I couldn’t afford to waste five minutes doing nothing if I could use that five minutes to make a call or send an e-mail.

Now, I’m not saying that being constantly busy is a good thing. It’s not. But too often I think something like this: “Well, I don’t have time to finish the dishes or do all the laundry, so I’ll just do that later.” In truth, I generally have time to start the dishes or laundry, even if I can’t finish it. And then I feel better about taking time for leisure later.

As a stay-at-home mom who also blogs and does freelance writing and serves in leadership at church, there is always work to be done. This week’s to-do list includes housework, grocery shopping, writing, buying supplies for the church kitchen, catching up on book club reading so I can lead the discussion while our pastor’s wife is out of the country and I don’t even know what else! (I recently heard this called a portfolio life. It’s an interesting concept.)

Which brings me to my second lesson from journalism: expect the unexpected.

Oh, how I hate this one! I’m a planner, and I like when things go according to (my) plan. I’m not sure how I survived journalism. Even in a small town, news breaks at the most inconvenient of times.

Like at 5 p.m. on a Friday when a fax comes into the office announcing the closure of the town’s steel mill, the major employer in town, and practically no one is available for comment but you can’t go home because you have to try everyone and the story will run the next day.

Or when you’re just doing your usual police rounds on a Saturday afternoon weekend duty and you discover a news release about a family of four who drowned when their van went into the river and you have to spend the rest of the day talking to people who are grieving.

Or on another Saturday when the president who grew up in your hometown (Ronald Reagan) finally succumbs to Alzheimer’s and the stories you’ve been holding and writing and planning for months finally see the light of day.

Sometimes all my plans got pushed aside for something else that was going on. It was the nature of the business and it’s the nature of life.

I still have a hard time with this. I look at the week ahead and think about how calm and peaceful it will be and then 3 out of 4 us end up sick or there are two snow days and three school delays and everything I thought I would get done gets pushed back another week.

Some weeks will go as planned and some won’t. Sometimes I’ll get through my to-do list and sometimes I won’t. What I’m (slowly) learning is that I can trust the Spirit to lead me through the day. As I’m writing this blog post, I could also be cleaning the house, but at this moment, blogging is helping to clear my head for the rest of the day, which will certainly have its stressful moments. Another day might lead me to tackle the organizing projects I need.

I’m good at procrastinating the work I don’t want to do but I’m learning that if I take small steps or knock off a few smaller items on my list, then I’m less overwhelmed. (I also probably need a few less hats, but I’m working on that, too.)

How do you do it? Are you able to find balance in all the tasks of your life? Have you learned something from a job or a role that was surprising to you?

How close is too close? {The Proximity of Pain}

“I can’t imagine.”

I saw the words again recently in response to someone’s pain.

I don’t think anyone means to offend or hurt when they say those three simple words. The heart behind them is often “I have no idea what that’s like or how to comfort you.” But sometimes they come out sounding more like “I don’t want to think about what that would be like. I can’t–and won’t–identify with your pain.”

I’m guilty of it. Thinking that the words will soften the situation because if I can’t imagine then whatever it is must be tragic.

But I’ve used the words to distance myself from tragedies. (The greater tragedy is that the words have been spoken to me in the midst of personal crisis. Shouldn’t I know better?) I’ve given myself permission to go about my life without thinking about those who suffer. (Until I, myself, suffer.)

I can’t imagine. Or I won’t.

The difference is slim.

I’m not a great conversationalist, at least not when I’m on a mission to complete a task. I’m not likely to chitchat on the phone if I have a specific reason for calling. I usually try to get to the point quickly because I’m wired to value tasks more than people, I guess. Give me a to-do list, and I’m on it with enthusiasm. Ask me to manage relationships with the same enthusiasm and I’m overwhelmed to the point of inaction.

But God is working on me.

A few months ago, I delivered a meal to a couple who are battling the wife’s cancer. I don’t know them well, but I’m generally eager to make food and take it to those who are in need of some relief. I was ready to drop off the food and leave, but the husband kept me at the door, talking about his wife’s progress and the treatment schedule. It’s not that I wasn’t interested; it’s just that I don’t like to pry. I figure people get asked the same questions all the time and maybe they get tired of talking about it.

I listened. Maybe that’s all he needed.

A month or so later this would happen to me again. I was planning a funeral meal for another family in the church. I had a question for the daughter about meat and cheese. She ended up talking to me about the shock and pain of losing her mother unexpectedly. It was another of those situations where I didn’t know the family well. I listened, having no intelligent response.

I have little firsthand experience with things like cancer and death, so I think my questions will somehow be offensive or silly.

Maybe I don’t need better questions. Maybe all I need is to know how to listen.

We’ve been watching the TV show “About a Boy” which is about a boy, yes, but also about a man, Will Freeman, who lives a pretty self-centered lifestyle until he meets the boy, Marcus. Until recently, I didn’t know this was also a book. So, I read the story, and one passage in particular grabbed my attention. Marcus, a 12-year-old with problems at home and school, starts hanging out at Will’s bachelor pad, and this is what Will is thinking:

Will had spent his whole life avoiding real stuff. He liked watching real stuff and he liked listening to (songwriters) singing about real stuff but he’d never had real stuff sitting on his sofa before. (p. 117)

Real stuff is easy to read about or listen to or watch, but when it sits in your living room crying or talks to you over a cup of coffee, it’s hard. And uncomfortable. I’m not always ready to invite the real stuff into my real life. Because real stuff is messy and I have a hard enough time keeping my own space tidy.

What would have happened, though, if no one had let me in when I was a mess?

That, I can’t imagine.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted,” the psalmist writes, and I begin to see the error of my ways.

I keep distance between me and those whose hearts are breaking out of fear that my heart might break, too. It’s not as if tragedy is contagious, so why would I rather not immerse myself in someone else’s trouble? Am I afraid to get too close to cancer or death or loss or sadness because it might rub off? I do tend to be swayed by the emotions of others, and there are days my emotional cup is already too full.

Elisabetta Foco | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Elisabetta Foco | Creative Commons | via unsplash

But what if I’m doing myself a disservice? What if by closing my eyes to tragedy, by holding suffering at arm’s length, I’m distancing myself from God?

If the Lord is close to the brokenhearted, is it possible that I might get a glimpse of God if I would take a step closer?

For too many years, Phil and I kept others out of our pain. Not everyone, but most people. So it’s different to be letting people in again. The wounds we’ve covered over are open again and healing this time, and sometimes that means I’m raw with my feelings, emotions, and reactions. But the difference is: I’m letting people in to those painful spots. Instead of covering them up, I’m exposing them. And it’s not always pretty.

There are days I think it would be easier to live independently. To avoid the hurt that comes from being in community. In marriage, in friendships, in church, hurts are inevitable because all of those relationships involve people. And people are messy. (Guilty as charged.)

But there’s a kind of pain that wounds further and a kind of pain that heals, and I’m starting to learn the difference.

We are grateful to be in community with people who care enough about us to challenge us to do things we don’t always want to do, to help us heal and become better people. Is it painful to hear someone you care about say, “You know, you might want to think about that differently” or “Maybe that wasn’t the best decision”? Yes, it is.

But it is pain that heals if I let it.

What if Jesus had decided to keep his distance?

Our sermon series at church is in the book of Luke right now and it is hard not to notice how close to everyone Jesus is. He sits and talks and touches and listens and people are always crowding around him. He could have healed people from afar, and sometimes He did, but sometimes He purposely touches people to heal them.

Sometimes I wonder if He could have saved us if He’d never left heaven. Did He have to become human and live in our dirty, messy world? I don’t know if He had to but I know that He did.

communion

And He didn’t keep His distance from those in pain and suffering. He became our pain and suffering. He gave His whole self for our salvation. He entered our world and identified with our pain. He embraced us when we were unworthy. He brought healing and restoration.

But it cost Jesus His life.

It was painful, yes, but it was pain that heals.

And I forget that when I hold the bread in my hands–His body broken for me, and drink of the cup–His blood shed for me.

Broken body. Shed blood. Is there ever an instance when those actions don’t hurt?

I am human. (Shocking, right?) So my capacity to enter someone else’s pain, to identify with suffering and draw near to tragedy is limited.

But it’s not impossible.

And instead of avoiding suffering and tragedy and pain, I want to see Jesus in it.

If the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, then this is what I know: He is near to me in my pain and I can see Him in it. And I just might see a different side of Him when I embrace the brokenhearted, too.

Will I dare to imagine?

Days of Wonder

I nestled into the window seat, nose practically touching the glass, eager for a glimpse of the world outside the plane’s climate-controlled interior. It was not my first flight, but maybe you wouldn’t know that if you sat next to me.

Whenever possible, I angle for a window seat. I like watching people, sure, but even more, I like seeing the world from an almost unbelievable vantage point–thousands of feet in the air.

How does one tire of soaring above the clouds in a man-made machine? Of starting in one place and landing in another in a matter of hours, having traveled hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles?

Want to read the rest? Head over to Putting on the New.

What if we’re made to break?

A week or so ago, the kids and I had the car radio on, tuned to the local Christian radio station, which is above average when it comes to that sort of programming, and we happened to hear a concert of sorts by a singer I didn’t know. She was talking about a song that had been playing on the radio and what it was about.

“It’s about this idea of planned obsolescence, how everything we have is made to break …”

And she played the song and it’s about our stuff–the electronics and material goods we have and how manufacturers make their lives only so long so we have to buy more.

But I couldn’t get over that phrase, “made to break.”

I wondered if it was true of me.

I wrote earlier this year about how my journey toward “whole” is taking a turn through “broken” and how surprising and unexpected that has been. It still unsettles me, this idea that there are things in my life that still have to break before I can come closer to “whole.”

But I think I’m slowly starting to understand why.

Tom Butler | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Tom Butler | Creative Commons | via unsplash

I recently read Laura Hillenbrand’s unforgettable book Unbreakable, the incredible tale of Louis Zamperini’s life. Olympic runner. Soldier. POW. It is horrific and amazing and heart-breaking all at the same time.

And I’ve been thinking about the title and how Zamperini was a survivor in every sense of the word. In the book, there are clear moments that show how his body, mind and spirit were unexplainably resilient to the forces that tried to break him. It’s an appropriate title in the sense that he wouldn’t give up when tortured or when stranded in the middle of the ocean with no hope of rescue in sight.

But Zamperini eventually did break. At a Billy Graham crusade when his family life was falling apart and his drinking was out of control. He had reached a point when he couldn’t do anything to save himself or get himself out of a mess or escape his nightmares.

He broke. And God worked in and through him to make something new.

Surviving impossible odds is inspiring. So is admitting that you’re at the end of yourself.

My husband and I started watching “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” on Netflix this weekend. It’s a Netflix original series co-produced by Tina Fey (love) about a woman who was part of an underground (literally) cult for 15 years who decides to make a go of life in New York.

For 15 years, Kimmy and the three other girls were told they were garbage and dirt and worthless. Kimmy resisted those labels in the bunker. And now she’s out in the world again with a middle-school education. She is naive and innocent and optimistic, refreshing in a world that is all too cynical. She challenges me to see the world anew.

We’re led to believe that New York will try to break her (and that it will succeed).

Doesn’t the world break everyone eventually?

There’s that Hemingway quote we toss around about how people are strong at the broken places. But the rest of the quote is not as inspiring as we would believe by taking only the first line out of context.

Here is what the whole thing says:

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” – Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Maybe everything breaks and we expect that, but maybe everyone breaks, too.

And maybe we’re made that way.

Maybe we’re not meant to do everything exactly right all the time. To carry all the burdens of this world, our worlds. Maybe we’re not meant to always have a healthy life, a comfortable existence. Maybe we’re not meant to help ourselves (so that God will help us) or rely on our individualism to save us.

I’m not saying God wants to bring suffering and hardship and calamity into our lives or that He takes any pleasure in it when it happens. I cannot believe in a god who would smile on adversity. The God I know is not cruel.

But maybe we’re made to break.

Our bodies, our relationships, our spirits, our beliefs, our emotions … at some point they all fail us. They all break in some way and it all breaks us. Mostly of ourselves.

Because when my body breaks, I’m broken of my independence. I have to rely on and trust others.

And when my relationships suffer a break, I’m broken of my selfishness that contributed to the rift.

When my spirit breaks, I’m broken of my self-sufficiency. I admit I need help.

And when my beliefs break, I’m broken of my assurances that I’m right and you’re wrong. I find that God is still God even if what I thought I believed changes.

And when my emotions break, I’m broken of living in my own power. I remember how weak I am and how much I need the power of God in my life.

Maybe breaking isn’t bad.

Maybe it’s necessary.

And maybe it’s not only necessary, maybe it’s for our good.

What do you think of the idea that we might be “made to break”?

How have you seen a time of brokenness work in your life?

 

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.