Fear to Freedom: The prison of fear

<Previous: In the beginning

My kids stretch the spectrum of teenagehood: the eldest survived the horrors of middle school and high school and is well on her way to both the exhilaration and existential crisis of early adulthood; the middle turns sixteen this summer, having emerged from (what I sure hope was) the worst of it. Ninety-four percent of the time, he’s really cool and fun to be around. My twelve year old, on the cusp of middle school, is just dipping his toes into the swirling vortex of teenaged angst, and I have to remind myself 27,000 times a day that we will survive this. It’s going to get much worse before it gets better. I know that.

Having survived these seasons with minimal amounts of therapy, I can look behind me and take some deep cleansing breaths. I see moms and toddlers at the pool or the playground or the aisles of Target, and while I would like to walk in their shoes again for maybe 45 minutes, just long enough to smell my kids’ hair and kiss their chubby hands and have them sit in my lap while I read “Guess How Much I Love You?” one more time, I would not want to repeat those years.

None of my kids suffered horrible separation anxiety, but they certainly had their moments. I remember reading about this necessary stage of development: around eight months, a baby realizes he actually exists as a separate human from his mother (or dad or any caring tall person), and that realization FREAKS HIM OUT. He is frightened. So any time the caring tall person leaves his line of vision or, heaven forbid, goes to the bathroom for two minutes of peace, he cannot handle the aloneness and expresses that fear with piercing screams. The caring tall person has to reassure him that she will always come back, that he is loved and cared for, and that doesn’t change when she leaves the room.

Likewise, an eighteen year old, who has always been fiercely independent and gets mad when anyone tries to help her, whose first toddler phrase was “MY do it!” and much later “I got this…” goes to college orientation and is suddenly paralyzed and thinks she is incapable of asking a question at the information desk, and she might snap at her mother. She suddenly realizes she is her own person, responsible for her own self, and that realization FREAKS HER OUT. She is frightened. So her mother must reassure her that she is, in fact, extremely capable, that her family is still there. She is loved and cared for, and that doesn’t change when she moves away.

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Fear is so deceptive. It lies to us, over and over, until we don’t recognize the lies. Fear removes our security and our confidence. Fear whispers You are not important. You are not enough. Your life does not matter.

And in that dark place, we turn our ears away from the voices that tell us You are Beloved. You are Enough. Your life has purpose. Listening instead to the lies of fear, we try to protect and save ourselves. We try to prove to the world (and to ourselves) that we are indeed worthy to be loved.

I’ve observed myself and those around me, analyzing patterns and behaviors of fear. I paint these observations with a very broad brush—not all of them apply to every person or situation, and certainly a lot of nuance exists with each one. So consider these with a generous helping of salt:

When we are afraid, we carefully construct a fortress around our hearts and minds to protect ourselves from the (false) reminder that we are not loved. We don’t let many people past the gate. Vulnerability is not worth the risk of being wounded again. Or perhaps the walls exist to keep others from discovering what we believe about ourselves: that we are messed up, unlovable, unworthy creatures best left to ourselves. Ironically, those same walls created to protect us also keep out the truth that we are actually Beloved. Inside those walls is a lonely place.

When we are afraid, we are jealous and possessive. We fear that love has limits, that we will not get enough, that sharing attention means we are not valued or important or worthy.

When we are afraid, we attempt to control people. If we can control what someone does or doesn’t do, we hold power over them, which makes us feel important, which makes us feel loved. Hunger for power is always birthed from fear. (Control, of course, is an illusion. We control nothing but our own reactions.) We might manipulate or lie or attack—either overtly or passive-aggressively—to create the sensation of control. Look at any theatrical villain: underneath the evil facade always exists a deep wound. The quest for power and control is an attempt to compensate for insecurity and fear.

When we are afraid, the unknown and The Other—those who are not like us—drives our need for power and control. (This sentence deserves its own five-part series.) We close our ears to understand anything other than our own perspective, and we draw lines and determine who deserves to be in and who is left out because we fear losing our own importance and relevance.

And when we realize our limitations of control, we get angry. We cannot coerce people to act like we think they should, and oh! how this pisses us off. So we lash out, lose our temper, fling hurtful words like flaming arrows. (And that always ends well, doesn’t it?)

I wonder if this fear, this belief that we are unloved and unlovable, is why Jesus instructed us to love our enemies. Could it be that the root of their abuse is deep fear and not believing they are loved? That their cruelty stems from a lack of understanding? That some deep hurt—which likely has nothing to do with us—led to an insecurity that causes them to assert control and demand power?

(This is, of course, an explanation and not an excuse for bad behavior. We are all responsible for our own actions and reactions, and we while we can love our enemies, we can also set healthy boundaries to protect ourselves from manipulation and abuse.)

Recognizing the root of bad behavior is certainly a game-changer. That kind of perspective lends itself to gracious compassion instead of returning anger for anger. If we understand someone is acting from fear of being unloved, it’s a lot easier to respond with assuring him he is Beloved.

And let us not forget that sometimes we are our own worst enemy—that loving our enemies sometimes means loving ourselves. We should speak to ourselves kindly and offer ourselves the same compassion and grace we extend to others who are afraid. If I am angry, I need to remind myself of Love. I can stop and ask myself, “why am I angry? why am I jealous?” and tell myself to knock it off and breathe and rest into the presence of Love.

Honestly, my long absence from writing was rooted in fear and forgetting I am Beloved. I know this. I hated the silence because what does that mean? It’s not good enough? I am not good enough? I’m not worthy of attention and affirmation? That pouring my thoughts onto a page demands a response, which determines my worth? No. NO. I am Beloved.

We’ll explore the idea of Radiant Love in the next post. In the meantime, think about these questions:

Besides the ones described here, what other patterns and behaviors of fear have you experienced or observed?

Which “bad behavior” in others annoys you the most? Why?

Which fear response to you most identify with? What do you think caused you to have this particular fear?

In what specific ways can you respond to bad behavior with compassion and understanding?

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below!

Next: The radiance of Love>

From Fear to Freedom: Introduction

I live in a sprawling Texas suburb, not unlike many Texas suburbs. What was once vast farmland now boasts row after row after row of rooftops, which we call “Master Planned Communities.” We also have shopping centers and restaurants and top-rated schools and playgrounds and amenities. We have megachurches and mega-Megachurches of every denomination and no denomination. Our family, like many others, moved to this area so our kids could receive an top-notch education while also enjoying the convenience and proximity to culture and opportunities. It’s a nice place.

And while I don’t take for granted the privilege this community affords, my soul aches for simplicity and quiet and contemplation, which isn’t easy to find while rushing between schools and activities and Chick-Fil-A.

A couple of years ago, I discovered a series of horse trails tucked behind our well-appointed community center. These dirt paths wind through tall trees and open meadows, carved from earth and leaves and thick gnarled roots. Whenever I can, I walk these trails—in the summer, when the trees are thick with green and the sunlight seeps through the limbs onto the dirt; in the fall, when the branches release their brown and yellow leaves and death litters the path; in the winter, when the sky turns gray and everything sleeps, waiting for rebirth; in the spring, when the world fragrantly returns to life and everything is new.

Within this space, my soul rests from the chaos of my busy suburban life, and truth and goodness and peace make their home.

Within this space, over the last several years, I have discovered healing and peace and the simplicity I have so deeply craved.

Within this space, within the metaphors of seasons and water and wind and earth, Truth revealed itself to me, teaching me gentle lessons about the prisons of fear and the freedom of Love and the fullness of Life.

Within this space, I realized we are born into and surrounded by Love, and that somewhere along the way, we stop believing we are loved, and we become afraid. Paralyzed with fear, we act unlovingly. Only when we return to that place of Love can we be free from fear and free to live as we were created.

This is the journey I wish to share with you over the next week or so. I must warn you, it might sound a little wwwwooooooOOOOOOOOooooo esoteric hippy flower power at times—especially if you, like me, cut your teeth on a conservative, dualistic black/white, right/wrong, body/spirit kind of ideology—but please stick with me, create space to listen and consider, and share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. I have a lot of words, so I decided to create a series of posts we can more easily and thoroughly digest together.

  1. In the beginning…
  2. The prison of fear
  3. The radiance of Love
  4. Expecto Patronum: Perfect Love casts out all fear
  5. Remembering: a return to the beginning

I’m not a theologian, and while I have read about and contemplated these ideas quite a bit during the past several years, there is still so much I don’t understand. I’m still learning and processing, and perhaps forming these thoughts into words will help me understand more. I hope you’ll lace up your running shoes and join me on this walk through the woods. May we discover together how deeply we are loved and how fully and courageously we are meant to live.

Next: In the beginning…>

 

The Next Right Thing

Here’s what I’ve learned: when everything and everyone around you is messy and complicated and uncertain, you sit in stillness and quiet, and you wait for the Next Right Thing.

It is both simple and complex. It is straightforward and mysterious.

But to bravely step into the NRT, as it will henceforth be known, is to step into wholeness and peace and joy, knowing you are precisely where you need to be. To bravely step into the NRT is to discover what Brian McLaren refers to as aliveness. The beauty and thrill steal your breath, the contentment bathes you with strength and equanimity.

This is what I have learned.

God has tilled the soil of our family and planted seeds of justice and mercy from the beginning. I vividly remember a distinct nudge while Michael and I were starry-eyed college students: Your home will be a safe place where Love is found. Even with ridiculously polar-opposite personalities, Michael and I share a love for hospitality and opening our home whenever we can to whoever needs it. Hosting guests in our home—whether it was our tiny newlywed apartment or our ginormous 5-bedroom McMansion—fuels us and energizes us and offers us a sense of purpose.

We have grown to know God as the master conductor, artistically and perfectly conducting a grand symphony of people and circumstances in a way that shows off his greatness.

We have been shaken from our sleepy, linear, 90s church culture and pushed forward into the Kingdom where Jesus lives among the least—the marginalized, the outcast, the forgotten—and we have learned to find him and join him in those places. We have learned that true religion is not how we follow the rules, but how greatly we love.

One of the top-priority goals for our kids is this: when they are grown and living their adult lives (not with us), if they ever reach a season of life when they are not serving and loving people well, they will be physically uncomfortable. I want justice and mercy so deeply ingrained into the marrow of their identity that they will be restless and unsatisfied until they jump back on the train.

That’s where Michael & I were last spring. After reading Interrupted in 2012 and launching into a life with new eyes and new passion, we reached a season of stagnancy. It happens. We still had the same fervor, but fewer outlets to expend it. So we began to pray, What next? Who do you want us to love? How do you want us to love? Where? When? We’re getting a little antsy. Show us the Next Right Thing.

Enter Embo.

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Embo came to our church several years ago, and she and Meghan became fast friends. Embo has spent most of her life being bounced and shifted and occasionally drop-kicked from foster homes to homeless shelters to friends’ homes, and back to foster homes again. Nomadic, unstable, and inconsistent doesn’t begin to describe her experience.

Yet this girl—this intelligent, strong, faith-filled, resilient girl—defied all the odds and graduated high school with honors last spring at age seventeen. (No one, including her, is exactly sure how she was able to graduate early, but her last high school counselor added up the credits from the 28 [that’s a real number] schools she attended and said she could. So she did.) College was the next logical step toward her goal of becoming Dr. Embo (and I have no doubt she will), but because she was still underage and still officially in the foster care system, her options were limited. She would have to be placed with another foster family with no guarantee for transportation to her classes.

Michael and I found out what was going on, and we looked at each other. This was a no-brainer. This was our NRT.

We talked about it and prayed about it. We talked to our kids, who all know her well. Everyone was on board (which is a total understatement. There was much rejoicing and whooping and cheering, as if we had announced we were moving to Disney World).

You would think it would be a harder decision. You would think there would be more back-and-forth, more weighing the options. There wasn’t. We just knew.

I mentioned the idea to her last summer, and at first I thought her silence meant hesitation. Not at all. She was just speechless…and really, really happy.

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My favorite novels often use chapter breaks to switch perspectives and tell the story from another character’s point of view. Let’s back up the truck for a minute.

Embo moved into her fourth foster home last spring, and like most, it was not a great situation. The weight of her experience—all of it—threatened to crush her, but she would have none of it. She began to write—raw, honest reflections on her identity, her family, the foster care system—with perspective and vision beyond her years.

About this time, Jen Hatmaker put together a launch team to review and promote her new book, For the Love (which, by the way, is a great read). Five thousand women applied, and 500 were chosen. Embo was one of them.

While the launch team met on a private Facebook page, those who were not chosen formed their own group to cheer on Jen and celebrate her book. They called themselves The #4500.

(I know, right??? Golden.)

Because writers write, Embo expressed her fear and grief and frustration one day in a blog post, then quietly shared a link on both the launch team and the #4500 pages.

This is where God starts showing off.

These precious women, including Jen herself, rallied around our girl like Mother Hens. They embraced her and loved her and cheered her on, they made sure she knew that they saw her, that she is not forgotten, that her life and her voice matter. Within this rich soil of abundant grace and love, Embo began to flourish. She courageously dared to have hope.

While Michael and I prayed for God to show us who to love, twelve hundred women began to pray and ask God to provide a home and a family for Embo.

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After the required background checks, calls to personal references, and a four-hour home study, a judge issued an order to declare We Belong To Each Other. Legally, she named us Temporary Possessory Conservators—but we prefer “family.” During Embo’s first week with us, I had exactly two moments of holy crap, we have four kids! This is right, right? We heard You correctly? We’re doing the right thing?…but then she missed dinner one night for a meeting, and her absence was palpable. We are not complete without her.

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Someone recently stopped me at church and thanked me for welcoming Embo into our family. Thank you, I replied, but honestly I feel like we should thank her. Our home has never been more alive. We’ve never encountered the presence of God more tangibly. Nothing has ever felt more right.

The NRT requires only one small step of courage. And knowing the NRT requires only your stillness and willingness to listen. I’m not a hero. I’m not some example to be lifted up and honored. I’m simply one woman inspired by great women to be still and be brave.

What is your NRT? It doesn’t have to be something huge, like adding another child to your family. It could be a phone call, or a job application, or a walk. It could be a beginning or an end or a choice to continue for one more day. It could be saying yes, or saying no. I’ll tell you mine: in a specific relationship, I need to bite my tongue and not be a jerk. Baby steps, man. It’s too much for me to be mushy and gushy and kind and sweet with this person. Not yet. I have to take the first step to simply shut my mouth. That I can do.

Be still, be quiet, be expectant. Ask for the next step. Only one step. Then courageously pick up your foot, just one foot, and move.

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PS: Our girl is well on her way to Adulting (it’s a verb). She’s taking a full load of classes at the community college while working both an internship and a part-time job. Our family is a safe, stable launch pad for her. We’re working on budgeting and time management and will soon teach her to drive so she can get her driver’s license when she turns 18 in the spring. My friend, Morgan, with the support of the launch team and the #4500, has started a fund for Embo to buy a reliable, low-mileage used car. When you’re being still and quiet and waiting for your NRT, would you ask God—or your inner voice or whoever is speaking to you—if investing in this amazing young world-changer is your NRT?

You can read more about Embo and her car fund here.

The polarity of stress

Three kids. Three schools. All of which dismiss at three o’clock.

This is what I’m dealing with. This pretty much summarizes the last three months—and also offers an excellent excuse for this being my first post in eight weeks.

I am drowning.

A giant whiteboard leans against the wall in my office. Every Sunday night, I write out who needs to be where on which day at what time. I’m juggling multiple choir rehearsals and dance rehearsals and soccer practices and piano lessons and church activities LIKE A BOSS. So far, no one has been stranded without a ride. So far.

But I am so, so tired.

Two weeks ago, I was supposed to run away from home. Michael had a meeting in Chicago, which is one of my favorite cities in the world, so we were planning to make it a date-weekend and reconnect, refresh, renew. Considering the chaos of our lives recently, Chicago was a carrot, a promise, our motivation for hanging on just a little while longer.

On the Tuesday before the Friday I was scheduled to leave, Nathan came home with a fever. No other symptoms. Just a low-grade fever and a little bitty cough that would not go away. All week, I hydrated him, oiled him, fed him, detoxed him—everything I could possibly do to help his body heal…quickly! I took him to the pediatrician, requested a strep test (negative), had him thoroughly examined. The doctor suspected a virus and sent us home.

In the meantime, Nathan is bouncing around singing, “Being sick is fun!” (I could not form words to respond. And I hid all the forks so I would not stab my eyeballs.) Even when his temperature continued to rise and stay over 101, he didn’t even have a headache, which was totally bizarre. I tested my thermometer on the other kids to make sure it was working.

On Thursday night, his temperature spiked over 104 and his cough was getting worse.

I cancelled my plane ticket.

And I stayed home. Instead of going to Chicago. Instead of date-weekend. Instead of a quiet hotel room with crisp white sheets and fluffy pillows. Instead of Michigan Avenue and museums and art galleries.

On Friday afternoon and evening, I made two trips to the AT&T store to activate my new phone and another trip to the Apple store when it wouldn’t work. In the middle of these trips, Meghan texted me from school to say she wasn’t feeling well and please come get her.

On Saturday afternoon, after watching a football game, Griffin was walking through the kitchen when he stopped abruptly and yelled, “OH CRAP!” because he had a Spanish project due on Monday. Which was assigned five weeks ago. Which he had not started.

That night, I gave King Dramaflair a dose of homeopathic cough medicine. He flailed and whined and fussed for ten minutes before he finally threw it back. Then he threw up.

On the rug.

On the hardwood floors.

On the tile.

Around the toilet.

As I was mopping up pink puke (alone, because Michael was in Chicago, at a cocktail party), Meghan texted me to come pick her up from a party (for which she had made a miraculous recovery after coming home from school early and taking a nap).

The next week, I made an appointment to have my car maintenanced, because this is what responsible grown-ups do. On the way, I got a speeding ticket. Then I arrived at the dealership, where the check-in guy looked at my car, recorded the mileage, and asked me why I was there. “Forty-five thousand mile maintenance,” I replied. He looked puzzled.

“None of your warning lights are on, and you just had an oil change. So we can do an inspection, but I think your car is fine.”

Apparently, regular maintenance is sooo 2005. You only have to bring your car in when it tells you there’s a problem. Who knew. So I sat in the waiting room for an hour and a half for the reassurance that my car does not need to be there.

I. Cannot. Handle. This.

Please pass the confetti and queso and pull up a chair for my pity party. It was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad…month.

Throughout these weeks, exhausted and spent, I would snuggle up on my Tempurpedic mattress and Egyptian cotton sheets, completely consumed with this book:

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Pages and pages and pages of stories about girls across the globe. Girls who are refused education. Girls who are sold into slavery. Girls who are sold into marriage before they achieve double digits. Girls who are trafficked. Girls whose tiny, underdeveloped bodies are so grossly injured during childbirth, who do not have access to healthcare providers or hospitals, who are outcast to the borders of their villages, left to die.  Girls who are discarded, abandoned, neglected, raped, beaten, starved.

My friends, in much of the world, this is the rule—not the exception. In much of the world, this is the expectation.

And yet, through various organizations, these girls are being lifted up, educated, and trained. Through the miraculous effort of a few brave voices saying this is not okay, entire communities are being elevated—because when women are given a voice and a seat at the table, everyone benefits.

So there I am, lying in my comfortable bed, on soft sheets. Safe. Fed. Educated. Reading about unimaginable injustice. Yet still exhausted from stress.

I procrastinated writing about this, hoping my muse would show up and reveal to me a neatly wrapped conclusion and a tidy application. I’m still waiting.

On one hand, stress is stress. Dealing with sick kids and unmet expectations and pink puke and driving 400 miles a week (I wish I were exaggerating)—those are all very real.

But what in the hell gives me the right to complain?

I spend hours and hours every week in the car and rarely travel more than five miles from my home. Because I have the freedom to drive. In my car. Whose monthly payment would feed and educate a third world family for a year.

My child was sick. And I took him to the doctor, gave him medicine and food and water so he would get well within a week.

I had to pick up my daughter early from school. In which she is freely educated and challenged and given opportunities most girls in the world don’t even know exist.

I spent hours trying to activate my new smartphone. I can’t even.

My husband left without me on a weekend trip. A trip which was an option. With my husband, who loves and values me, who elevates me, who treasures me as an equal partner, who was more disappointed than I when I couldn’t go. 

I got a speeding ticket. For which I could pay. And not for a second did I fear being jailed or kidnapped or assaulted when being pulled over.

I cannot reconcile the juxtaposition. My stress is real. But every ounce of it is First World. But it is still real, and I have no tidy answer to make sense of the polarity.

I guess all I can do is strive for what Glennon Melton calls perspectacles. Operating from a place of gratitude seems like a good place to start. Continuing to read and learn about global justice issues—when it would be so much easier to squeeze my eyes shut and plug my ears like a toddler—and then playing whatever small role I can to eradicate those issues. Breathing deeply, practicing awareness, praying, being still.

Realizing the sky covers the entire globe, and holding up half of it is a big job, no matter which piece of the sky you touch.

Grace guarding my rear

I have reached the season of life when I anxiously count the days until the beginning of school—not (only) because of the bickering and boredom and crap all over the house, plus the “there’s nothing to eat,” and “stop looking at me!” and “Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom?”—I hit that point years ago. This year, I craved the ending of the summer and the beginning of school so I could SLOW DOWN.

Here’s how summer goes with teens/preteens/pre-preteens: you set the alarm for 7:00 am. You drive one to Ballet Intensive. You drive another to Sports Practice. You drive another to Camp Interesting and Educational. Then you pick up #1 from dance, grab a quick lunch before you pick up #2 from practice, take him home and pick up #3 from camp. Then #1 wants to meet a friend at the movie theater and #3 wants to play with a friend, while #2 glares at you and declares there is nothing to do and his life is meaningless. At 5:59 you realize you’ve been in the car ALL DAY LONG and have nothing prepared for dinner, and since they insist upon eating EVERY NIGHT, sweetbabyMosesinabasket, you throw in a frozen pizza…or better yet, instruct your Privileged And Well-Rounded Brood to help themselves to a bowl of cereal.

At least when school starts, they go away for seven hours and you don’t have to see them, drive them, or entertain them ALL DAY LONG.

Then of course, school starts, and all is right and well with your quiet, peaceful little world…and by Day Three you are pulling out your gray hair and waking up in the middle of the night wondering how you are going to get everyone where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there.

I miss sleeping.

I’m kidding—sort of. (Not about the sleeping part.) Not every week of our summer was so jam-packed, and we did enjoy some pretty sweet travel time.

This one worked with Vietnamese orphans in Hanoi:

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These two worked with an orphanage in Mexico:

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And we spent one weekend touring Washington, D.C. at a frenetic pace with our bestbestbest friends, then hung out together on an island for a week.

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Kinda makes up for all the driving. Almost.

Deep in my bones, deeper in my heart, I feel a new beginning, a fresh start, a sense of hope. I’m not sure why. But I think this year is going to be different.

My eldest struggled in so many ways last year, which is her story to tell. As her mom, I wished I could take away her hurt—but at the same time, I knew pain and doubt and loneliness are some of our greatest teachers, and her story is being exquisitely written. God’s favorite job is taking the broken and making it beautiful—but the “broken” stage truly sucks.

Before her Vietnam trip, I found this passage in Isaiah 58, and I began praying these words on her behalf.

This is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.

Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!

Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring. (vs. 6-11, emphasis mine)

Generosity has the power to heal us. To summarize Jen Hatmaker’s interpretation: when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, then told the disciples to do this “in remembrance of Me,” He was saying, continually make this real. Continually allow yourselves to be broken and poured out for others because in the breaking, we find wholeness. In the pouring out, we are filled. In the dying, we find healing.

In serving, we find God—for God dwells among the least, the weak, the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the forgotten. That’s his ZIP code.

Your salvation will come like the dawn. Dawn is a pretty cool time of day. (Or so I’ve heard.) Dawn is a new beginning, filled with hope and promise. New things are budding up, waiting to burst open and surprise us. Our wounds are less wounded.

Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. This slightly confused me until I imagined walking on a path (my path has lots of trees and sun-speckled dirt)—I’m walking toward something good, accompanied by my companions: Mercy, Grace, Justice, and Peace. When I turn around and remember the pain and hurt behind me, I see the love of God. My past is filtered through God’s love for me, how He was always with me, even when I didn’t believe He was. His glory protects me from behind.

I moved a couple of times as a child, and I transferred from one college to another during my junior year. The latter was the most painful, and I went kicking and screaming. For most of my adult life, I’ve felt bitter and cheated out of a complete college experience. Being uprooted left me flailing. Twenty years later, I still have dreams about returning and finishing my education where I began, as if my unconscious brain is somehow trying to achieve wholeness.

Only recently have I looked behind me and seen God’s love guarding my rear. (Interpret that as you will.) Those were some tough years—emotionally, spiritually, medically, mentally—but they undoubtedly shaped me and prepared me for the even tougher years that followed. I can finally rest in gratitude for all I experienced. And, funny thing, when I see that season through the lens of grace, all my other painful seasons are washed and colored and guarded, too.

Did this change of heart result from the mere passage of time and acquisition of wrinkles and chin hair? Perhaps. But I’m pretty sure getting out of my own head and stepping into the brokenness of God’s beloved has something to do with it, too. Feeling sorry for myself, wallowing in my bitterness, stuck in my grief—that’s near impossible when I choose to love, when I serve, when I listen.

To bungle paraphrase Solomon, the summer is past, and the rains are over and gone. It’s a new day, a new year, a new beginning. May we love deeply from our own sacred brokenness, and may our wounds heal quickly. May our darkness be flooded with light, may our gardens be well-watered, may our strength be restored.

(Also: may dinner magically appear on the table every night, and may we not run out of gas while driving to Kingdom Come and back every afternoon, forever and ever, amen.)

Showing up

This is me, showing up.

Showing up the the second most difficult thing in life, especially for the creative. Showing up means saying, “Here I am! Let’s get to work!” —even when you have no idea where to start or where you’re going or what you’re doing. You show up. You sit down, and you begin.

And then, you create something out of nothing—which isn’t entirely true. The Nothing is actually a Something you didn’t know was there. The Nothing Something could be an image, a word, a phrase, an idea. It could be something you noticed while sitting in the car line or changing the eleventh load of laundry. It is usually a whisper that beckons you to follow it, though you know not where it will lead. Your job is to follow, to observe, to record.

So you do. And from that whisper that is Nothing Something emerges a Thing of Beauty that you cannot contain or harness or control—it acts and speaks in a voice heard differently by every soul it encounters. Some may hear majestic major chords, some may hear a laughing trill, some may hear a mournful minor key. But they all hear what they need to hear, what will soothe them, what will inspire them, what will sustain them—so you simply play the music. With trembling hands, you hold out your gift, waiting for it to be received.

Showing up is the second most difficult thing in life. Your Thing of Beauty being ignored—that’s the first. Unveiling your secrets, exposing your raw weaknesses, coloring your soul on a page—that is what frees you; the loud silence that follows shackles you to your insecurity. The silence screams you are not enough, you are not worthy, you are not important. The silence draws you back behind your carefully constructed fortress, the thick walls that protect you from feeling insignificant, but also keep out light and breath and warmth. They keep out the community.

So this is me, showing up. This is me, stepping out from behind the walls, fearing the silence, but refusing to cower. This is my healing, my oxygen, my bread and wine. This is my broken turned into beauty.

This is me, showing up.

The Sacred Scared: Fear of having failed

Something extraordinary happened over at Momastery last week. Brave women, strong women, honest women, women whose names we recognize and admire, women with huge hearts and giant platforms, stepped into the public confessional and whispered their shared secret:

They are scared.

Glennon calls this the Sacred Scared, which I love. To be vulnerable is sacred. It is holy. It says I am weak, and I am frightened, and we can share this dark space together because we are all scared. And maybe then, together in our fear, we will be less scared and more brave. And they discovered the simple act of showing up, even when we’re stuck in this sloppy, tangled, beautiful mess of fear—that, my friends, is an act of bravery which lights the way to freedom.

So each courageous writer—Rachel and Sarah, Jen and Kristen, Jamie and Nate, Tara and Jamie, Shauna and Sarah—posted a short essay describing her biggest fear, along with a no-makeup, this-is-the-real-me photo. (To be fair, Nate is not a woman, but he is a writer and a pastor…and he looks fabulous without makeup.)

Glennon also offers this bit of wisdom:

We hear a lot lately about the importance of being vulnerable in front of others, but we haven’t been taught how to respond to someone else’s vulnerability, so I’ll be offering suggestions about how to receive vulnerability during this series. Here’s the first one: When someone lets you into her Sacred Scared – she is showing you her messy insides NOT because she wants you to fix it, but because she trusts you enough to let you know the real, true her.

Imagine that you have a new friend that you just love, and she’s coming to your house, and you finally liberate yourself enough to skip the panic-clean before she arrives. You decide that you trust her enough to walk in and see your messy house and you just KNOW that she will GET IT. She will LOVE that you just Let It Be for her. But she walks in and instead of flopping down on the laundry covered couch, she starts cleaning up the mess. Your mess is making her too uncomfortable. She starts to FIX IT instead of appreciating your mess as a trust offering. How do you feel about that?

Let’s not try to fix each other’s Sacred Scared, if we can avoid it. The people in this series are letting you in to see their Real, Beautiful Mess. Let’s not try to fix them, because they don’t need to be fixed. Neither do you. Let’s just try to find some comfort and love and maybe even Me Too in the offerings.

So even though my platform is practically non-existent and my audience is small, I’m joining their chorus and admitting

I am terrified that I have failed as a mother.

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My kids are now fifteen, twelve, and nine. People tell you when your kids are tiny how fast the time will fly, but you’re so immersed in whining and tantrums and poop that you don’t believe them—or you hope they are right. I asked Gretchen last week, “do you remember when our kids were cute and sweet? Because I miss cute and sweet. I’m pretty sure they were cute and sweet. I’m almost certain they used to like me.”

She laughed. “I was so tired, I don’t remember any of it.”

Last weekend, our house was swimming in cute and sweet. Our five year old nephew and three year old twin niece and nephew came to visit, and they brought an abundance of snuggles and giggles and adoration. My favorite moment of the entire weekend? Sitting with both twins in my lap, reading Curious George, complete with voices and intonations and questions and observations.

I miss this, I thought. And then, Thank God! I know I did something right. I know I read with my kids. Hours and hours, book after book, I remember reading to them. 

Because lately, the realization of all I didn’t do and the fear of not having done enough leaves me trembling and breathless and very, very sad. Did I teach them all the important things? Did I pray with them enough? Did I pray for them enough? Did I tell them enough how much they are loved, how God holds them in His hand, how amazing grace and redemption truly are? Did I enjoy them enough, or was I too preoccupied? Did I hug them, snuggle them, kiss them enough? Have I impressed upon them the joy of walking with God, or could they not see past my scowling and snarling?

Did I blow it?

In my deepest heart, I fear that I have been so concerned with raising independent kids who can take care of themselves that I took my hands off the wheel too often. That in my exhaustion, I let too many things go and dropped too many balls. I fear that by disengaging myself (my go-to method of self-preservation), I didn’t care enough.

When Meghan began middle school, this thought stopped me in my tracks: CRAP! We forgot to do Girl Scouts! She waltzed through her entire childhood without selling a single box of cookies or earning any merit badges. She’s doomed.

I’ve skipped out on eating lunch in the school cafeteria because, frankly, it’s loud and obnoxious and cafeterias still smell weird. I haven’t checked their homework or quizzed them on their weekly memory verse or chaperoned field trips. Mostly because I don’t want to. It’s not fun, it’s not convenient, and I’m busy.

And I can’t get that time back. Missed opportunities are just that: missed.

I see my girl struggling, questioning, doubting. I see how hard it is for her to love herself. And I remember what that feels like: fifteen is god-awful. I remember feeling rejected, left out, miserable. Sixteen was good. Seventeen was okay. But you couldn’t pay me enough to return to fifteen.

So I know her insecurity is not all my fault. Not entirely. Fifteen year old girls struggle, regardless. But could I have done something differently that would have made her more resilient? If I would have loved her better, would she be less afraid?

And what about the rest of my life? My friendships, my education, my (air-quotes) career, my marriage, my writing…all of these would have been-slash-could still be better if I tried harder. If I did better. If I cared more.

(As I’m writing this and silently vowing to redeem my numerous shortcomings, my fourth request to please go take a shower was ignored, as was the please sit down with us and eat your dinner and put your homework in your folder. So what did I do? Ran away and took a hot bath. Then the next morning—because a single blog post takes seventeen years to write—I get the cold shoulder and more rolling eyes and more ignoring. Whatever, man. Do whatever you want. I don’t care. Hello, disengagement, my loyal companion.)

And in coming to terms with my own insecurities and reading the brave confessions of the Sacred Scared, I’m realizing my girl will always be afraid—because who among us is not afraid? We are not alone in our fears. That truth both comforts and devastates me.

But perhaps we can throw open the heavy draperies, shouting THIS IS ME, AND I AM AFRAID, and expose those fears to light: warm, comforting, life-giving light. And when we let the light in, we find that the room is filled with fearful warriors, that we are not alone, that grace exists, that redemption—that blessed process of turning the broken into beautiful—is always the happy ending.

And, of course, I’m not done yet. I have nine and a half more years before the last chickadee leaves the nest. So today, and hopefully tomorrow, I will show up. Trembling, messy, broken; apathetic, exhausted, overwhelmed—I will push past my fear of being Not Enough. I will offer blessing and attention, speaking life into my babies, praying with them, praying for them, trusting the One who is not afraid, the One who tells me not to fear because He is with me. Because Love—strong, resilient, invigorating love—is more powerful than Fear. Because I am not alone. Because I can do hard things. Because my story, their story, your story is not finished yet.