A MILLION PIECES

I haven’t written for awhile because I haven’t known what to say.

I feel broken. I feel defective. I feel confused.

I’ve been in the process of healing, of recovering, most of my life. And just when I’d gotten so far in healing emotionally, I’ve needed to recover physically. And I think I’ve had enough.

The thing about recovering and healing is that it’s always a partner to pain or illness. If you’re “getting better”, then you weren’t well. The unfortunate truth is that we don’t get to choose, do we?

By the time my family got home last night, I’d decided that I deserved pity. Pity and potato chips. (Don’t judge me! This was my pity party.)

I’d spent the week making a mental checklist of all the things I couldn’t do any more since I’d fallen and ruined my shoulder two months ago. And I got bonus points for the fact that I will most likely never be able to do anything on the list again. I had begun to see myself as broken. But I’d found this photo of a sunset reflected in a broken mirror. “Ah!” I mused. “Perhaps if that mirror can reflect beauty in spite of its brokenness, so can I.” (I know, right! Even I’m gagging.)

I considered doing my own rendition of a phoenix. But I really didn’t feel like rising from the ashes. Honestly, I was far more inclined to wallow in the ashes. At my best, I might have lain on my back and made ash angels, buy I’m unable to straighten out my left arm enough to manage even that!

Seriously, though, this “new normal” stuff stinks! And it seems that the only time you hear about someone’s “new normal” is when life hands them a cruddy plot twist. I haven’t researched where or when this phrase originated, but I have a feeling it was first used by a doctor who couldn’t fix someone or make them feel better and had no idea what to say. It would have been unprofessional to say, “Gee, you’re one really unfortunate person.” So they said, “This is your new normal now. You’ll learn to adjust.”

And most people do. They have no other option, really. At least not a good option. Their family adjusts, too, because this is now their “new normal”.

When you think about it, though, isn’t your life just one “new normal” after another? My daughter will have graduated this time next year. Her father and I will navigate the new normal of sending our baby out into the world, and she’ll work out the grown-up details of her new normal. My marriage to my husband almost 23 years ago was a pretty big new normal. Every new job was a new normal. Bringing a child into the world was a new normal.

So what we really have is a lifetime of constant new normal’s. And they all fall on a continuum between tears of unspeakable joy to tears of unspeakable despair. But God is there for all of it. None of it comes as a surprise to him. The hard part for most of us is not knowing why. “Why me?”

It is just as reasonable to ask, “Why not me?” The day after my pity party, I learned that a man who was less than two weeks from retiring when a car failed to stop at the stop sign. and hit the car he was a passenger in. He was less than two weeks from retiring. Chances are his wife had a Honey Do list waiting for him. He’s now beginning his retirement as a quadriplegic. That’s not a new normal that I think I could handle, and that humbles me.

Last night, my search for some inspirational words lead me to a video that I hadn’t planned to watch – because it was about miracles instead of a miry pit. It, too, shushed my whiny thoughts. It’s worth the five minutes you’ll spend listening to it.

Here in southern Minnesota, people are quick to say, “It could be worse.” Well, it could be better, too, don’tcha know.

I have no idea how to wrap this up. I guess – for me anyway – it comes down to two words. But God. I don’t understand…but God does. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this…but God does. I can’t find the good…but God can.

It’s easy to feel alone…but God is with me, even if I don’t feel him.

 

EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT

God speaks to me in some cool ways, but my favorite is when I awaken with the line of a song in my head. Today I got a really nice line from Loggins & Messina’s “Danny’s Song.” God’s message is seldom the entire song; just one or two lines that repeat constantly in my head.

Today, I heard:

And in the morning when I rise
Bring a tear of joy to my eyes
And tell me everything’s gonna be all right

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV) assures us that “because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

I think we can all use a reassurance from time to time.

Too often, we desperately try to control things in our lives. For as exhausting as it can be, we find some comfort in the illusion that we have some measure of control over things. Anyone who has sat in the driver’s seat with an experienced driver behind the wheel knows just what I mean.

to trust god in the darkIt can be hard to trust that anyone else would, will, or even can take care of things that we’re worried about. There’s a sense of apprehension, the possibility that whispers, “What if….” It’s the same feeling we get when we reach for the light switch in a dark room. We know there’s nothing in the room while it’s dark that isn’t in the room when the light’s on. We know our reach won’t be interrupted by a cold boney hand. But what if…?

God is able and willing to lighten our burdens. And if he doesn’t make the matter go away, he can give us the grace and peace to get through it. He will be by our side through deep waters and dark valleys. And he is willing to carry our burdens.

God already knows what’s ahead of us. Absolutely nothing surprises him, and he promises that he will make a way where there seems to be no way.

god's perspectiveWe need to look at things from his vantage point and not from our own. Too often, we believe things are so much bigger than they really are. Remember the first time you revisited your elementary school after years of being away? It’s hard to believe you ever thought it was so big.

So while I may worry about how I’m going to pay this bill or replace that car, God already has a plan. I’m not meant to solve all my own problems. My worry serves no good purpose.

God’s greatest desire is for us to trust him. Our trust in him is the foundation for our relationship with him.

He love us and he’s got this! If you’re still for just a moment, you can hear him whisper, “Everything’s gonna be alright.”

WINTER OF MY DISCONTENT

watercolor snowmanAh, winter! Mugs of hot cocoa, long walks along snow-kissed streets. And snowflakes! Winter’s butterflies. Did you know that we are like snowflakes? Yes, each one of us unique. And, like snowflakes, alone we can do little but together we can do so much.

Like create avalanches.

When I wrote about the value, nay beauty, of seasons, I was apparently only really appreciating Fall. A close second would be spring, with Summer and Winter coming in last in a close tie.

Fall is the season I enjoy most. But right now there’s winter. Still.

Sure the first snowfall is beautiful, but eventually the pure, untouched blanket of snow get scarred with the soles of boots, tire tracks, and shovels. Snowmen melt, but not until they look like dirty vagrants stalking our neighborhoods. Sometimes the snow doesn’t have a chance to melt before another snow comes along and then you just have a lot of snow. Ice and freezing temperatures become hazards. There is no color and everything looks dead. The streets narrow, you have a hard time fitting you and your winter coat behind the steering wheel, the cold forces you indoors, and it never seems to end.

winter bucket listAt times like this, it’s hard to remember that nature has a way of using winter. Nature has a plan for winter. So do merchants.

I don’t.

And lists like this one? They eventually give way to more practical things like paying the bills and buying a car to replace the one I wrecked when I spun out on ICE!

Don’t get me wrong! I hate summer as much as I do winter, so I’m a equal opportunity season bigot. I just prefer seasons that have color and allow for some movement. I like seasons that appear to be doing something, and winter doesn’t appear to be doing anything.

And I wonder when this season will end. Where I live, the snow is actually melting away without being replenished on a steady basis. You’d think that would warm my stone-cold heart, right? Not so much, because what is there when the snow melts but layers of dead leaves that we weren’t able to get raked up before the snow came to stay this year; the same leaves that will be there to deal with in the spring.

When I wonder when the frustrations in my life will end, I see the unfinished work that’s still there to do and see the constancy of things in my life that seem to accumulate exponentially – the bills, the aches and pains, the debt, the house repairs – and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Like my yard, I could remove a layer of snow, but there’s still a blanket of leaves beneath it. And beneath that blanket is an uneven yard that will grow crabgrass because it hasn’t been properly cared for.

joy in the morningBut God has a promise.

But I feel as though I’ve been waiting a lifetime to see the incomparable joy that He promises. And it seems like just when I think things are going to improve, something else sets me back.

I know that God has a purpose in our pain and that He never promised that we’d see His joy during the time we inhabit our bodies on Earth. I even realize that when the next blessing comes along, I will sheepishly admit that God is faithful – always.

Still, it would be nice to have more than one thing be counted joy at the same time. Too often, I feel like I’m in a perpetual state of negotiation and compromise, getting one thing only to have something taken away – everything kept in balance so that I can be neither “ahead” or “behind.”

347d9a1bbc9d1d09543b4f8d1a5cd490I’m also aware that if I measure my joy by how many operable cars I have or how many bills I can pay off, then I’m using the wrong measuring stick and assuming that God doesn’t care for me when He really does.

Still, it would be nice to just relax in a soft over-sized chair with some warm socks, a fire, a hot cup of cocoa and a good book as it sit by a window and watch the snow gently fall.

For a while, anyway.

Perhaps it will be in that quiet that I will hear whispered, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

Did the Grinch Steal Your Christmas?

I usually start out the holiday season (the no-I’m-not trying-to-be-politically-correct – from-Thanksgiving-to-New Year “holiday season”) like this:

elfI want the house to look festive. I want to bake cookies and make candy. I want to watch all the classic Christmas movies from A Christmas Story to Die Hard while I’m curled up on the couch with my family, a warm blanket and a big bowl of popcorn. I want to play Christmas music from Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Wizards in Winter to the Muppet’s’ unique take on The Twelve Days of Christmas or (my personal favorite) Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey. I want to write the coolest Christmas letter to our family and friends, and get it mailed early!

But my Christmas letter turns into a New Year letter. If I hear Harry Belafonte sing Twelve Days of Christmas one more time, I’ll scream. (Actually, If I have to hear anyone stretch out “five go-old rings” through seven verses, I’ll scream!) My husband and I are too tired to stay up for a movie, and I’ve barely seen my daughter since the beginning of school break. The cookies and candy? Well…I’ve got the ingredients but got lost on Pinterest looking for the right recipe. And the house? Not bad, but the spare room is full of boxes – at least the ones that got into the room. One of the cats is using a partially-emptied tote for a bed and an unfinished wreath rests against the table by my chair. The cats seem to enjoy the way the fake needles massage their coats as they walk through the middle of it.

I am not Martha Stewart.

I think I love the idea of Christmas; but to be completely honest, Christmas really, really stresses me out! My husband and I have yet to go into the season with any money set aside for gifts, and John and I have gone through 21 Christmases with very different ideas on how much we should spend. And gift-giving of any sort gives me anxiety because I could never buy the right thing for my mother. (It’s okay – I’ve talked to my therapist about it.) I’m confident that most people probably have someone like that in their family; and if they don’t think they do, then they’re probably that person.

One year, I thought I had it nailed! My mother told me she would like one of two books – Roseanne Barr’s Roseanne: My Life as a Woman or the newest book from Robert Schuller. I chose Robert Schuller’s book because I thought it would be inspirational. When she opened it, she was quiet for a bit, then she set it aside without a word.

“Did I get the right one?” I asked.

“It’s fine.”

“You said you wanted that one or the one by Roseanne Barr, right? Is there something wrong with it?”

“Well, I wanted Roseanne’s book.”

No “thank you” at all. I’d failed again. That sort of track record leaves you a little anxious about getting anyone the “perfect” gift.

I am not Santa, either!

grinch and maxAll of the “forced festivity” is enough to turn a girl into a Grinch! You’re buying things for people you wouldn’t ordinarily buy something for – Secret Santa’s, the mail carrier, the paper carrier, the woman who does your hair! How much is enough? How much is too much? If you get it on sale, does the original price count or does the sale price count? Are you re-gifting something  to the person who gave it to you last year? Does it count if it’s handmade? Do the bag and card count as part of the price or not? What happens when you get a “surprise” gift and (naturally) have to find a gift of equal value to reciprocate? What on Earth made anyone actually think you liked ceramic turtles?! (Well, you’re a bona fide collector now, Sweetie! You’re welcome.) Your kids – bless their little hearts – understand that you can’t afford the latest electronic doo-hickey. They’ll just ask Santa for it. Fine! Maybe Santa can pay for the new tires we need for the car, too!

There are three groups of people my shriveled Grinch heart really goes out to:

  • The introverts who are expected to spend all their free time in the foreseeable future in the company of extroverts.
  • The hostesses who end up stuck in the kitchen cleaning up after a big family feast that took two days to prepare and 20 minutes to consume!
  • Those who are trying to work their way through the holidays while bearing true substantial loss of a family member. (This is a special group that has a place in my heart like no other and deserves the dignity of being mentioned but not included in an honestly superficial rant like this.)

Is this really what Christmas is all about?

first christmasNo. No, it’s not. We know this going into Christmas, don’t we? Cognitively, we know it’s about the fulfilled promise of God and the baby in the manger. Even the folks who only go to church for Easter, Christmas and the occasional baptism or wedding know what Christmas is really about!

But we fall for the guilt, pressure and commercialism every year, don’t we? No one wants to be left out during a gift exchange, even if we don’t need another thing and probably won’t score anything all that special anyway. Is it any wonder we end up at least a little disappointed when we go into Christmas feeling like Elf and finish feeling like the Grinch. The version of the holidays that we buy into has the potential to rob us of our joy.

For me, the worst part is that I let it happen. I could set a monetary limit and stick to it. I could tell my friends and coworkers that I prefer to not participate in group gift exchanges because I don’t want to take on more debt. I could budget my time the same way by carefully choosing which get-togethers I prefer to attend, then balance them with the time I need to be alone with my family at home. At least my generation is beginning to appreciate the freedom of slow cookers and ready-made dishes that allow us time to spend with the ones we love – or are at least related to. Stressful food preparation no longer defines our womanhood. Much.

Christmas is about God offering “tidings of comfort and joy”, and here I am worn out and bitter. It’s about hope, but I’m freaking out about how much debt we’re accumulating. It’s about peace, and I’m cranky. It’s about liberation, and I feel trapped by social constructs. It’s about pardon, and I feel indebted. It’s about inclusion, and I hear story after story of family strife.

wreath crownChristmas is about eternal matters that cannot be measured or limited, and my focus is on resources that are finite and exhaustible – time, money and energy. I allow these things to take priority in my life while I struggle to keep alive a now, very small corner of my faith.

Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll find some balance that will allow me to enjoy the best of the holidays. Bless all of you who come alive and are in your element during the holidays! Personally, I’m relieved that Christmas only comes once a year. It comes and it goes. But the Kingdom on which the birth of Christ is built is with me all year long.  Now, that is a gift worth keeping!