Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On Grief, for Cameron: A Repost

Today marks a year since I wrote this post, a year since Cameron died. It's hard to believe. A year later, the grief is just as present, but I'm amazed at God's tenderhearted way of personally ministering to each of my family members. 

Cameron's loved ones have created a scholarship fund, in his name, for any Junior or Senior at MTSU, studying aerospace. If you are in the Tennessee area, or know anyone that is, spread the word. The info is below. 

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“Please call. It’s an emergency.”

I received a text message last week, quickly calling back my mom, only to hear the traumatic news that my cousin was missing in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

As the pieces came together over the next few days, it became clear that our precious Cameron died in a tragic accident while snow-shoe hiking.

Heavy with grief for a life lost all too soon, we now undulate between rage, sadness, shock, and a twisted hope that this is all a nightmare. Like Tom Sawyer, Cam’ll show up at his own funeral. His mom will ring his neck and we’ll all have a good laugh.

But, that’s not going to happen.

My family traveled to Oregon, in his footsteps. Only to realize, without doubt, that an end had come.

A light had gone out.

Empty chairs sit at empty tables.

And so, we grieve.

I’m thick with it now and I have no answers.

I have no way, nor any desire, to wrap this up neatly in a bow.

I do have a lot of questions: How could God let this happen? Why didn’t He stop it? Is God who He claims to be?

But, I’ve learned I don’t have to sort out all of those answers right now; I just get to be sad with my sweet family. 

And I am.

I do find some comfort in knowing that God created each of us with unique personalities. He knows us fully and is not surprised by our grief. 

He knows some of us need tears, stories, and photos. Others need silence or screams. Some need music and pints of Guinness.

Indeed, He is a God who knows us intimately and knows death intimately. He has suffered for, and now, suffers with us.

But, how are we supposed experience any real comfort while in the grip of death's prideful cruelty?

Crowder’s song, I AM, says,

There's no space that His love can't reach
There's no place where we can't find peace
There's no end to amazing grace…
I am
Holding on to You
In the middle of the storm
I am holding on 
I am
 

If there was ever a place your love and peace needed to reach, Oh God, it is here.

During a recent sermon, my husband said this: “God’s joy is found in the dirt and the dust, in the most unexpected places of life.”

So, I echo: if there were ever a more unexpected place to find joy, Oh God, it would be here. 

Please give us glimpses. Help us cling to you in the middle of this storm. Remind us of your unending amazing grace. We so desperately need you now. 

Kevin and I are co-officiating a wedding ceremony this weekend. I’ve never been so thankful for these human, yet sacred, rituals. They serve as a reminder that things are cyclical—we will always carry our grief with us, but even in our pain, there is joy somewhere in the world.  


So, we grieve our boisterous and joy-filled Cameron as we live - one day at a time. 

All the while, stuck within that most miraculous and painful paradox: the kingdom and presence of God is already here, but not yet complete. 

Already and Not Yet, rolled into one.  



We endure brokenness alongside beauty, winter along with spring, and midnight together with the resplendent sunrise. 

Our deepest sorrows mingle with the most astonishing thing of all - hope. 




Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shame-I-Am


I lugged a heavy suitcase down the stairs, hearing some unidentifiable thuds along the way. When I looked back to investigate the source of said thuds, I discovered the following: a pair of socks, a shirt, a swimsuit, a bottle of lotion. A trail of breadcrumbs down the steps behind me.

I forgot to zip up the suitcase before I carried it downstairs. No big deal, right?
It was a mistake, a mundane, inconsequential one at that. 

But without warning, this thought violently pinballed through my brain—

You are so dumb.

On another occasion, I was folding laundry in the living room when I accidentally spilled a little wine on the couch. (Yes, I drink wine to make it through all the folding. Don’t judge me. )

There it was again—

You are so dumb. 

Like a demented Sam I Am, this particular lie of shame is annoyingly persistent in my life these days. 

You are dumb going down the stairs. 
You are dumb sitting on chairs. 
You are dumb here and there. 
You should feel ashamed everywhere.

As if my mistakes mean my insufficiency.

I feel it heavily as I attempt to finish my book on overcoming shame. Who am I to tackle such a massive topic? I must be dumb, that's who.

C.S. Lewis said, “God did not die for a man because of some value He perceived in him…He loved us not because we were lovable but because He is love.”  (The Weight of Glory)

In the face of Shame-I-Am, I will try to remember this: I belong to the One who loves me, not because I zip up suitcases successfully, or never spill wine, or even write a perfect book. 

He loves me because He can't help but love. It's His very being. 

In Jesus, I will not feel ashamed here or there. I will not feel ashamed anywhere.

I am no longer Shame-I-Am's. 

I am I AM's.

And in Him...





Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pinterest Wishes and Overstock Dreams: A Repost on Bronwyn Lea's Blog

So thankful to my friend and sister Redbud, Bronwyn Lea, for reposting this piece (originally published at olivemepost.com.) Several of you have asked about it--so here it is again, a slightly newer version. I hope you enjoy!



...There’s a reason why Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods and Disney’s latest production of the same title are bookended by two powerful words:  I wish. The point is wishing is cyclical. We wish. We receive. We wish again. 

While there is nothing inherently wrong with online shopping, I began fixating on what I didn’t have, couldn’t afford, and yet desperately longed for. I wasted long hours placing household items into online shopping carts only to delete them in a moment of anti-materialist resolve, only to later add them again.

My wishing swiftly mutated into obsessing, and likewise I transformed from a sweet Sondheim fairy tale character into a nighttime Gatsby; surrounded by my new beautiful kitchen while staring out at the Other Kitchens just out of reach. And all of this was literally in the span of a week.


In scientific terms: Girl. Gone. Cray. Cray. 

Incidentally, as swiftly as the wishing came, the shame followed....Read the rest of the post here

And receive regular doses of Bronwyn's amazing blog here.




Friday, April 10, 2015

Wounded Healer, My Friend: An Excerpt from (in)courage's Friendship on Purpose Series.


I wrote this piece for (in)courage's Friendship on Purpose series, about my dear friend Jenn, and the fourth anniversary of the birth and loss of her precious son, Hudson. Jenn's been an amazing friend to me (at times I haven't deserved) and a woman of courage. I am incredibly thankful to (in)courage for publishing this piece.



...The day of my ultrasound also happened to be my best friend’s due date. Following a long struggle with secondary infertility, she and her husband were finally going to have another son. But my friend went into early labor after thirty days of hospitalized bed rest. And after thirty-six hours of life, little Hudson’s lungs proved too frail. He died in his mommy’s arms.

God has since blessed my best friend with two more healthy children. There is joy. But with it remains a dull and daily grief in her heart, in the back of her throat, at the sight of her c-section scar. There is some comfort in knowing that Hudson is in the arms of Jesus now, but truth be told, we want our children in our arms, don’t we?

I knew it was foolish of me to be mourning the loss of an imaginary daughter when my dear friend was mourning at an actual grave site. I knew how greedy and selfish I was acting. Here she was in the thick of her grief, and I was daring to be ungrateful for a healthy child.


So I did my best to hide from her, not wanting her to see my disappointment. But, as only a girlfriend can, she knew me. She knew I wanted that pink bow.... 

You can read the entire piece here. 

And if you aren't already a subscriber to (in)courage, it's one of my favorite websites/blogs ever. You can sign up here to receive free daily encouragement from the writers of (in)courage, right in your inbox!


Monday, April 6, 2015

Guest Blogger, Kathy Jack, on Birthday Parties and the Beauty of Pain


Happy Monday! I'm hoping you had a joyful Easter.

Today's guest post is from my friend, Kathy, who also happen to be an incredibly gifted therapist. 
I love when therapists post for me because they understand the gritty and powerful work of overcoming shame. 

Kathy Jack is a licensed clinical therapist with over fourteen years of experience in individual, couples, and child & adolescent family therapy. She works in private practice in Wheaton, Illinois at Alliance Clinical AssociatesKathy believes everyone has the potential for transformation in their lives. She is passionate about helping others discover joy in their passions, positive meaning through painful life experiences, and God-moments in their relationships. Kathy enjoys date nights with her husband, board games with her two daughters, long coffee-talks with friends, reading, and the outdoors.


Birthday Parties and the Beauty of Pain

“Why do friends say they’ll invite you to their birthday parties…then don’t?”


As we pulled into the elementary school parking lot, already brimming with moms and dads dropping off their precious ones, my eight year-old daughter asked me that pointed and painful question. Thank goodness we came to school early, because I knew it’d take more than a minute to answer this one.

I parked the car and turned to face her in the backseat; her little eyes filling up with tears. All I could think was, Well, now what? What do I say to ease the pain in her heart?

I knew I couldn’t actually answer her question, but I could give her all the empathy I had. 
I started by attempting to give her a vocabulary for her pain. I told her how I thought she might be feeling: “That totally sucks and you must feel hurt and disappointed.” (Yes, I did say the word "sucks" to my eight year-old. What else could I say!? It does!)

Then I noticed something—an old habit trying to creep its way into my conversation with my little girl—a need to make this situation about my own childhood insecurities. 

I want my daughter to know I can relate and empathize with her feelings, but if I’m not careful, I can quickly make these moments with my daughter all about my child-self and my need to "fix" my childhood. 

So, I stopped, took a deep breath, and reminded myself not to make this about me. This moment was about her pain. I am an adult and I need to be there for her— as my adult-self— not as my little- girl-self. (I would take some time for my little-girl-self later; for now, I would choose to be present with my daughter.)

After working through that little internal drama, I guided the conversation towards the topic of good friends. "What constitutes a good friend versus a classmate?” I asked her.

You know how my daughter responded? She blatantly ignored my question and began to plan her own birthday party! She talked about who she wanted to invite, what the theme would be, and where it would be held. (I pushed her towards a house party, but she has other, much bigger, plans.)

Right now, the way my daughter handles rejection is to plan her own party. Is that okay? Of course it is. She is eight, and frankly, I am just impressed she was able to let me know how she was struggling. 

If I'm being honest, I sometimes handle my own pain and rejection just like my daughter--by avoiding the discomfort. I prefer the party. 

But later that day, I decided to face my childhood pain. I sat alone in my office and talked to God about the rejection I experienced as a child. After some time, I began to feel His concern for my struggle and His love for my inner little girl. I felt the tangible tenderness of God.

See the ironic truth is, if we want to develop emotional maturity, we have to learn to be present in our childhood pain. The only way to stop bringing childhood rejection issues into adulthood is to be willing to struggle through them, by bringing them to God over and over again.

Avoiding our childhood (and even adult) pain can lead to addiction, regret, self-centeredness, unresolved guilt, shame, and more. But if we face our pain with God at our side, and sometimes in community with the help of a mentor, spiritual director, friend, or counselor, we can find freedom.  

That night before bed, as I prayed with my daughter, I checked back in with her. “How are you doing?” I asked, “How are you handling your feelings and your pain now?”

Ultimately, she expressed that she just wanted to feel invited.

I understood her feelings. We all want to be the center of everyone else’s universe, don’t we? We all want to feel invited. But I wonder if that is really what we need. 

When we face our pain rather than avoid it, we find we aren’t at the center of the universe; we are actually at the center of God’s immense love. 

And in my experience, there’s no better place to be invited.   
  





Thursday, March 26, 2015

Where Were You Four Years Ago? Zayn Malik and One Direction, An Old Email, and God's Faithfulness

Four years ago...

long before Zayn Malik left 1D...

Look, it's a foreshadowing....Zayn has his back turned to the band...
(and yes, I was at a Private 1D concert two years ago. Thank you very much.)

...long before you'd fall in love with Downton's Matthew Crawley, only to have him ripped from your heart...long before you'd watch that horrific ending of How I Met Your Mother...and just a few years after the first gen. Iphone...Where were you? What were you doing?

I was (surprise!) pregnant with my third son, and yet also feeling a tug to give birth to other things.

In 2011, I sent the following email to some friends. One of them sent it back to me yesterday and it's got me thinking about God's faithfulness.

"I have some steps I'd like to take in the next two months, before the baby comes- but often I get very overwhelmed. So, would you please pray that somehow amidst kiddos and pregnancy and real life that I would make time to work towards the following (even if it doesn't all get accomplished)?

1) I have majorly reworked my writing project. I need to edit and create second and third drafts of two chapters. You will be receiving these for critique eventually, if you are willing to read them!  

2) I need to update my bio sheet and send query letters to literary agents.

3) I need to begin blogging.

4) This biggest one with the most work- I need to finish my book proposal- this involves many hours and a lot of research.

Above all- the trap I get in emotionally -- the lie I believe-- is that I am NOTHING unless I am accomplishing something outside of mothering, OR that I don't have what it takes to accomplish my goals in life. 

And so 5) Please pray that I can speak graceful truths to myself--whether or not I accomplish the above goals.  And above all, pray that I will learn to be present and content- enjoy the sacredness of the present moment!"
 
Yesterday, after backtothefuturing through that email, I listened to a sermon on the topic of work by Timothy Keller. (My Lenten goal is to listen to sermons while I run, rather than watch HGTV,which beckons to me to it like a long lost lover.)

Keller spoke about Madonna (someone he, funny enough, quotes often). Madonna supposedly once said that the reason she creates music is because she doesn't want to feel mediocre. She wants to feel special. 

In that email from four years ago I can see both a strong desire to work hard and do what God was calling me to do, but also a broken longing; I had (and still have at times) a deep need To Be Seen, To Be Approved Of, To Not Be Mediocre. 

That was the work under my work: a striving to feel worthy. 

God has been good to me over the past four years. My writing dreams (thus far) have come true. My family has grown and been blessed. But other moments have been excruciating: my son's spinal cord surgery and his long recovery; the unexpected death of my cousin, Cameron; the passing of my best friend's son (which you'll soon read about soon at (In) Courage. I'll share the link with you when it's published.) We also left our beloved church of ten years to begin a new one

As many endings as beginnings.

And so, as I think about God's faithfulness, it's not that His faithfulness means every dream will come true. They don't always. 

It's not that we won't suffer. We will. 

At the same time, some dreams will come true. 

We will see beauty and births. 

As many beginnings as endings. 

I don't know what the next four years will bring, but I hope I can remember this: 

It's not our work or projects that give us significance. Before we were ever accomplishing, before we were even starting anything, we were already seen, known, and loved by the One who accomplished everything.

And no matter what we accomplish or don't accomplish, He is faithful, still.
(No matter who leaves your favorite British boy bands/television shows.) 


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Green Philippians 1 and a Few Quick Updates

There is a lot to fill you in on from the past few weeks, so I'll try to make this short and sweet and to the point. Warning: some of these updates are important in life, others are just 'cause I need to tell someone!

Quick Updates:

TWICE now- my alarm has NOT gone off on the day of a speaking event. TWICE. One time it actually jumped time zones, so I woke up an hour early (much better than not going off at all, but still...) iphone 6- WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?

Two weeks ago, I spoke at an awesome MOPS group on overcoming shame for moms.

One week ago, I spoke at an amazing women's bible study about overcoming shame for women.

Last weekend, I was one of four speakers at the Redbud Writer's Guild Retreat. Some of the most brilliant and creative women across the country were there (including the wife of the man who saved President Reagan's life--like actual history was in front of me), and it was an incredibly energizing time.

Yesterday, I walked around Target with these funny glasses on that filmed my shopping habits. I received a $20 target gift card for doing so. And if you're wondering, NO. The gift card is not my latest giveaway because I will always hoard all target gift cards. FOREVER.

And totally random sidenote: if you are interested in a GREAT read on St. Patrick, go to biblemesh.com today.

Now, to the point...
Mine was the closing session at the writer's retreat, on the Redbud's theme verse for the year.
(I'll put it in green for ya' in honor of St. Patty):



Theologian N.T. Wright writes, "The confidence Paul has throughout this letter is that God himself is a 'finisher' as well as a beginner." 

In other words, He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. 

Paul's joyful prayer for his beloved church plant, his co-laborers in the gospel, is this: that their love would abound. As my friend Catherine taught at the retreat- abounding in love is to be overflowing, chock-full of, and infested with love. It's not only a love of the emotions; it's also a love that impacts our minds, as well as our behavior--a love that grows in knowledge, insight, and the ability to live a pure and blameless life. 

When I was speaking to the MOPS and women's groups, I asked both to come up with a definition/ example of "shame." At each session, I was reminded me that sometimes our biggest shame-triggers are those expectations (real or imagined) that others place on us. We feel we aren't living up to some elusive wow-factor as moms, or wives, or friends, or daughters, and then we begin to question our worth as moms, or wives, or friends, or daughters. 

The truth is we don't have to live up to anyone else's standards. In fact, the gospel is that we can't. We can't even live up to God's standards--but Jesus, who upheld all standards, offers himself to us. 

We are able to abound in the love Paul is praying about because Jesus is love and has first loved us. 

We are capable of growing in knowledge and depth of insight because His Spirit is at work in us.

We have the capacity to discern what is best and pure and blameless because He who is best and pure and blameless has begun a good work in us.

So today, in as much authority as I have to do so--I am wearing green, so that gives me some street cred-- I give you permission to let go of the false expectations of others and to let go of shame. 

In their place, may you abound with Jesus-- your Beginner and your Finisher-- who is faithful to complete you.