Happy Birthday to the Man who loves

This morning I went to Kroger, early, before-early-service early. I had a few last minute things to grab for tonight’s special birthday dinner. While I was there it seemed every third person had to stop me and make sure I wished my Hunky happy birthday for them. People I didn’t even know asked me to pass on their well wishes.  Generally, I don’t enjoy shopping, but today’s trip made me smile and then laugh. I guarantee my Hunky hasn’t told anyone today is his birthday, and yet still people know and send their love.

That’s the kind of man I married. He makes people feel seen, heard and loved. Without agenda, he simply, genuinely cares about people, all people, everywhere. We’ve been married for two decades, and I see it everywhere we go. I’m married to a man whose heart is big enough to embrace the entire world, and isn’t afraid for people to know it.

When we spend a day in public, my girls play a game where they keep count of the people who stop for a hug or a hand shake or just to share a few words. Craig never forgets a name, or a face, or a story. Perhaps it’s the last one that’s the most important. He takes the time to hear someone’s story and he remembers the details.

It’s not just people “out there” either. Here at home, he sees, he hears, he remembers. Details and events that have long left my working memory he recalls in perfect detail. But he never uses these things against us, or to prove a point. Instead he uses them to elevate, to reflect and to constantly remind us how much we are loved. He loves in a way that makes people want to be around him simply to be reminded of our inherent worth.

When we left Florida, we weren’t allowed the opportunity to say goodbye to anyone. But once our severance period ended, a dear friend opened her home for a sort of long awaited farewell party. Most of that night is a blur to me now, but what I will never forget is that people literally LITERALLY filled every room and then out onto the porch, down the walk way and lined the sidewalk down the street, waiting, for a very long time, for their turn to receive a Craig hug. For hours and hours he hugged and listened and loved and cried.

For all my life, I will never forget what it is like to see in such a concentrated way how it affects everyone around you to be a person who loves well and fully.

If you’ve read any part of the last hundred days of writing, you know I’m a big, floundering, messed up human. I’m not certain that will ever change. But what balances me out is being deeply known and passionately loved. How true it is that kind of love covers over a multitude of sins. It certainly does for me.

Happy birthday to my love, my heart of hearts. The world is absolutely a better more beautiful place with you in it. I hope you never doubt that. And never forget your meaner, less forgiving half is more than happy to take on anyone who says otherwise.

The power of Possibility: What I learned in 60 days of writing

Do you know what I love? Possibility. The clean slate, the new page, the unwritten day.

Do you know what sometimes terrifies me? Possibility. The huge mistake, the wrong choice, looking silly, foolish, stupid, wrong.

I’ve been writing and sharing for sixty days now. Sixty. According to everything I’ve ever read about habit, I’ve more than established one here. (Though truth be told, this weekend I thought to myself, “ohmygosh I cannot wait to take a weekend off from having to write something.”)

For sixty days I’ve sat here and looked at this blinking cursor. Some days I can’t wait to use it. To share and consider whatever lays uppermost in mind this particular day. The space is mine; the internet is mine. The whole dadgum universe is mine to shape and create in any way I have the courage to shape it.

Then there are days where the cursor mocks me, daring me to speak, assuring me that someone, somewhere is waiting for me to say the wrong thing. Waiting to denounce, silence and shame. Each and every day is a coin toss daring me to open the lid and place my fingers on the keyboard.

Who will greet me and how will she feel about possibility today?

When I was in college, I minored in psychology. I loved learning about the ways we think and what motivates us to say and act and be who we become. As I have aged, that interest has evolved into a fascination with people’s stories. When someone allows me the privilege to see their life through their eyes, I understand a little better. I am able to climb into their shoes and walk around a little bit. Even reading a story from someone else’s perspective, fact or fiction, reveals a side of life I hadn’t known before.

It’s precious, this gift of story. When we share the hidden parts of ourselves, we often do so with someone we trust, who we hope will respond in affirming ways rather than condemning ways. I have those people.

It’s another type of risk to release a story into the world. Ask any author and they will tell you that words give birth to stories, and stories are as precious as a child. We weave from soul and air, and sometimes from blood and bone to create something we release into the world. But once we let it go, we cannot control whether the world will embrace or reject our creation, our story, any more than we can with our flesh children.

Perhaps it’s because I am in a season of releasing, launching children and letting go of expectations and dreams we cherished that I find the courage to release these words and stories every day. Maybe it’s easier to let go once we stop holding everything so tightly.

I wish I knew what the formula is which makes me embrace possibility rather than cowering under the covers certain that no matter what I do it will turn out wrong. Failure is always a possibility, right?

Sixty days of writing haven’t made me any more certain of the outcome on a day to day basis. Each day the cursor waits for me to sit down and begin while possibility unrolls before me.  I haven’t tamed my dread at all. But I’m learning to sit with it. There’s as much room for my discomfort as there is for my enthusiasm. I’m learning I’m strong enough to live with the possibility of disaster without being swept under to drown.

Hopefully, sharing my story will bring more joy than pain. Even if it doesn’t, sharing is the real point. Stories are how we connect, find belonging, and realize we are not alone. Other brave souls have rescued me with theirs, and now I’m adding my own voice to the song. It isn’t pain or failure or fear which negate the gesture. Only rejecting possibility can do that.

I’m telling the story to myself as much as to anyone listening. A story of hope, of change, of healing, of the possibility that all these things which have happened, were only ever meant for me to create something beautiful from the pieces.

Anything is possible, right?

The Box of Disorder: How I survived when I burned it all down

A few weeks ago, before I lost my brain to whole 30 and fourteen unexpected schedule crises, I wrote a bit about the three boxes: order< disorder< reorder. I learned about these boxes from Richard Rohr. Whether or not he originated the thought, I don’t know. I’m just glad I heard him speak of them. You can read about order here and disorder here. But I want to take a bit longer and talk about my own disorder story.

I believe everyone’s journey is unique; we don’t all walk the same path even when we are headed in the same direction. But I also know there is power in “me too”, and it’s very important for those of us on the disorder journey to hear this, because it can be an extremely lonely time.

I wrote earlier that sometimes the disorder starts with a simple question, and so it did with me. Back when I used to love to study scripture – a feeling it’s hard for me to remember now; the Bible and I approach each other gently now, like lovers who said too many horrible things in a fight and haven’t fully recovered – I read something which contradicted everything I’d been taught about Jewish people. Namely, they missed the boat in Jesus and so were lost to salvation. But what I was reading, didn’t support this idea at all.

Excited by my ‘discovery,’ I began to share with others. Their response is what you probably expect.

No. You’re wrong. God doesn’t work like that.

Their utter refusal to even entertain these, to me, exciting and beautiful revelations left me feeling diminished. Their tone when they rebuked me left me feeling ashamed. Questions open the doors to dangerous ideas; we sure don’t want to go down any slippery slopes.

Except I did.

I could write for days and weeks if I enumerated all the reasons the cracks in my iron-clad theology grew, personal relationships became strained and snapped. The dissonance in the doctrine I knew and what I was actually finding in scripture was too loud. I knew too much of what happens behind closed doors in churches (hint: people I placed unfairly on pedestals acting altogether human). All these things contributed their weight.  I struggled, floundered and pushed back.

Then we were kicked out of church.

I know now, after years of struggling with this huge, suffocating burden, that pushing back against the system was only part of the reason for our eviction. Ego, dysfunction, resentment and jealousy took part in the decision. I was not innocent of some of the uglier motives, but I no longer believe I deserved what I got. For years, I carried the weight of responsibility for this eviscerating event. When I took it upon myself, I also decided I would be the one to fix it and prevent it from ever happening again.

Obviously, the way to prevent pain was to be the best little evangelical pastor wife I could be. You can’t evict perfection, right?

I threw myself into my wifely position at our new church home attending all the services, promoting all the programs, keeping the nursery. I crossed all the t’s, dotted all the i’s and made countless covered dishes. The box of order was my security blanket, the thing that would keep me from ever being hurt again.

Except I kept getting hurt. Human relationships are messy; we can’t avoid hurt in this world unless we remove ourselves to a desert cave. Even then, we may still end up wounded. My wounds only added to the internal pressure I felt from denying all my questions and struggles from before. I couldn’t continue to embrace things I knew weren’t the final Truth and remain true to myself. If I embraced these dissonant doctrines, I was going to lose core pieces of my self entirely, and I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.

The breakdown was not a lovely time. At all.

It was messy and painful. I ached and wept and railed in fury, isolated and shut down. I wounded people with sharp edges and anger. Honestly, I’m lucky to have anyone still withe me, who knew me before. I lost many along the way. Fortunately, despite all my fear of intimacy and strangers, I knew I needed professional help.  I spent many hours in the office of a therapist, a beautiful, open-minded soul who made space for my disaster and told me again and again and again that there was room in God’s love for even this.

That message, apart from religion or expectations or appearances or all the other things I hated about myself and everything else….Just God and space and LOVE…is the one thing I held, pressed right up against my heart, tight, tight, tight, tight.

Then I razed the rest.

Once I knew, really knew, God’s love held room for my disaster, I wanted nothing else. I wanted to rebuild my self piece by piece: likes, dislikes, theology, philosophy, relationships, dreams, hopes, all of it. Everything. Nothing was sacred, not even the sacred.

But first, I sat in the ashes. I mourned. I wept. God made space for it and me even as I railed against Him for my own decision. I cursed Him for my lonliness. I turned away from Him in my disappointment. But even in this, I found space. I found love.  Companions sat with me in the ashes, wisely speaking no platitudes, correction or rebuke. Simply bearing witness to the death of so many things.

Not everyone experiences disorder on this scale, but some do. I foolishly built my identity on something which couldn’t last, so when the time for disorder came, as it does for all of us, most of my identity disintegrated with it.

But there’s hope. Always hope. While we are still in the box of disorder hope does not leave us. In fact, it builds the bridge to the box of reorder, which is where we are going next.

Something Fun Sunday: Episode one

I think that success is having fun. – Bruno mars

Last week, I shared about my Sunday struggles
, and my plan to reframe how I feel by adding something fun each week.  I dubbed it “Something Fun Sunday.” This week, I made sure to take notice of books, events, songs, and moments so I could share them today.  I’m pleased to say, it worked! I was definitely more mindful of enjoyable moments. I anticipated their arrival and savored them longer, and then reflected on them more often in further anticipation of writing about it.  These are all keys to happiness. Without further ado, here’s Some fun things for Sunday
I’m an unashamed Marvel movies fan. No, I didn’t grow up reading the comic books, and I don’t know all the lore and back stories. I just know I enjoy a good completely imaginary action flick.  So when Craig showed me the new Thor: Ragarok trailer, I was thrilled! It’s not many movie trailers which make me laugh aloud, but this one does. “I know him! We’re friends from work!” I crack up every time. Watch it here.

Two books added to my enjoyment this week. While I tend more towards literary fiction and non-fiction, some weeks I want cozy chic-lit filled with tears and laughter and a guaranteed happy ending.  I want a great story about relationships and life and the crazy way its beautiful and terrible all at the same time. This week, I found it in Taylor Jenkins Reid’s One True Loves.  I don’t want to give anything away, but, friends, if you need a cozy good book this week, this is it.

On Thursday night, my book group gathered (more fun things!), and we ended up talking about an entirely different book. The Happiness Project is a long-time favorite.  In fact, I’m undertaking a happiness project of my own this year. I reread this book almost annually and was so excited it came up because it’s currently $1.99 on Kindle. I don’t know how much longer this deal will last, so if you decide to read it too, I wouldn’t wait too long to buy it. Incidentally, when I talk about how anticipating, experiencing and remembering an event increases happiness, that’s a concept I learned from Gretchen Rubin.

I’m a bit late to the bandwagon (aren’t I always?) We’ve had family premium on Spotify for about six months now, and the whole experience is wonderful. I’d forgotten how much I like music, and how entwined my mood and music can be. New music at my finger tips and the ability to make playlists for every mood?  YES, PLEASE!! EVERY DAY ALL DAY LONG!  A couple weeks ago I ran across this little gem, and I’ve probably listened to it sixty-eight times since then. So now I share it with you, enjoy!

Remember to Breathe: Sharks, faith and other things with teeth

Speaking of forgetting, last night we were sitting in bed, scrolling through Netflix, as you do, and Hunky ran across a new BBC documentary. Sharks. I cannot overemphasize how much I love sharks. Jaws is my secret favorite movie. For my 34th birthday, Hunky gave me an hour in the shark tank at Sea World for my birthday, arguably the greatest gift ever. When we still had cable, I treated Shark Week like a liturgical holy week.

Sadly, it’s been awhile since I watched or listened or paid attention to anything, really, about sharks. If asked, I will passionately exclaim, I LOVE SHARKS! And I’ll be telling the truth, even if my passion is more dry and dusty ancient knowledge than hands on, heart on, messy, wet, toothsome experience.

But last night, I remembered. As I watched the ragged-tooth shark on my TV screen, I remembered, ghostly forms swimming towards me in a shark cage. Oxygen sighed loudly in my ears as my very breath flowed into me, rather than being excessively available. I remembered the echoing, ghostly quiet as I watched a world in which I was completely foreign carrying on beneath and around me, entranced as living dinosaurs examined me, possibly a bit more hungrily than I examined them.

I can’t remember the last time I experienced something so visceral and full of wonder.

In the safety of my bedroom, I listened to the narrator talk about eons of time, 400 million years, as light slanted through the water and mysterious, alien landscapes burst forth on screen. Not too long ago, I fought so hard against those numbers, needing to be certain, desperate to be right.  I’m not that person anymore, but stepping away from certainty and those prescribed faith tracks is a bit like stepping into a cage over shark infested water.

More than a few decades ago, I earned my scuba license in a highly-chlorinated, basement, college swimming pool. The highlight of this experience would be diving the Crystal River during a weekend trip to Florida.  I remember squeezing into my farmer johns and lowering myself into the water, spitting into my mask and finally, adjusting the regulator, the thing tethering me to life when I enter the unknown.

The first time you lower yourself into the water you think, I can’t believe all of this is here, all the time. All this beauty and miracle going on all around me, and I didn’t even know it.  The next thing you think is Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe. Keep breathing. In and out.  Because while you are swept up in this utterly novel and foreign universe, your mind is yelling. You are in a place you don’t belong and cannot survive. It’s desperately trying to convince you if you breathe in, you will die.

During this dive in the Crystal River an alligator gar decided he wanted my mask for himself. He tried to take it from my face using only his teeth. In the moment I was terrified. Now I remember it as one of the most thrilling and unexpected moments in my life.

Faith is like this sometimes, too, entirely beautiful and safe inside the boat. You can go places you’ve never been and see things you’ve never seen before. It’s all completely safe as long as you stay inside the boat.  But underneath is completely different, beautiful and ancient, and mostly hidden beneath the surface.  Always there, as real as air and sunlight and flotation devices in case of emergency.  We can enter into it if we wish and see other, deeper things we’ve never seen. It feels lonely at first, but soon hosts of living creatures swim around us, as curious of us as we are of them. Some of them, maybe, a little dangerous.

It’s an experience both visceral and full of wonder. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s ok to breathe.