Liberty

Letting go
Opens my hands
To accept so much more
Stretching my fingers
Reaching out
To life
To love
To have
To hold
All I want
I cannot grasp
Until I let it go
The paradox is not lost
On my bewildered heart

To love someone
Is to let them go
To be the one
They truly are
To freely choose
To be with me
To have
To hold
To let me be
Truly who I am
To freely choose
To be with them

I’ve grasped too tightly
I’ve held and lost
I’ve come to see the light
The risk of release
Requires a strength
Invites a vulnerability
Without which so-called “love”
Cannot be love
But simply obligation

Instead I choose
Again today
To dare the pain
To risk the loss
To brave the grief
To gain the love
Freely offered
Flooded with joy
Held securely
In open hands

Repetition

Life travels in circles. I keep finding myself walking down paths that bear the mark of familiar footprints. Like Pooh and Piglet, I frequently find the heffalumps and woozles I’ve been hunting are, in fact, traces of an earlier experience of my own life.

For years I have journaled my thoughts and feelings, writing (as I’ve heard it said) not what I know, but until I know. Processing my emotions on the page lets me see what I’m thinking, often in a way I hadn’t before.  Themes repeat themselves as I approach them from a new angle and, sometimes, I gain new understanding. Occasionally, I even find wisdom.

Like many of my posts, this one began as a journal entry some months ago. I reread it this morning and found it so encouraging, I knew I needed to share. I am also terrified to tap the “Publish” button, because I don’t actually want to put these things out there in public. Important as I believe it is to be vulnerable, to be shamelessly honest, I miss the pretty mask I spent so many years crafting. I still want to look like I’ve got it all together and I don’t need nothin’ from nobody.

Which would be fine, except it’s a big, fat lie.

We are all needy. Every single one of us. Even me. So, here I go again, sharing parts of my story I grew up believing were never meant to be put on display. Because, when it all comes down, I am learning my honesty is more valuable than whatever fleeting esteem I may gain by hiding.

I spent a lot of time as a child trying to avoid my father’s anger. There was a bit of unpredictability to it. I never quite knew what would set him off. Sometimes he would be a barrel of laughs and everything would be just fine. Other times, though, the least little thing went wrong and he’d start yelling. As an adult, I learned that he was raised in a family affected by alcohol abuse. My dad didn’t drink, but my experience, I came to realize, had much in common with stories I heard and read from children of alcoholics who similarly never knew when interactions with parents might turn from fun to frightening.

Throughout my marriage, I sometimes found myself battling that same sense of insecurity. I would find Adam angry, seemingly out of the blue, and I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong. Which, it only occurred to me after many years, probably meant I hadn’t done anything wrong, but some little thing touched off the brushfire of anger that had been smoldering underneath the surface for a long time. Maybe it was something I’d actually done, maybe it was something he’d imagined I’d done. Maybe he hadn’t been expressing how something I’d been doing bothered him and doing it just one more time was like the straw that broke the camel’s back and all this pent-up rage came out. Or, maybe it had a whole lot more to do with how he felt about himself than anything at all about me.

But I’d thought it was about me. I thought I’d said or done something that made him mad.  Adam didn’t encourage this misconception, but neither did he didn’t particularly discourage it. Not until the past few years did either of us have a good enough understanding of boundaries to realize I wasn’t actually responsible for his feelings, nor he for mine. But long before that, in response to my fears of disrupting other people’s feelings, I found myself lying. I lied about who I really was and how I really felt by hiding behind this mask of someone I thought everyone wanted me to be. Only, that person never really existed.

In the last two years before Adam died, he and I had finally begun to deal with a number of relationship problems that had been present, but we’d mostly dismissed throughout our marriage. I found myself wondering why it took us so long to really start to focus on these ongoing issues. I recognized, eventually, while Adam preferred to avoid conflict altogether, I’d been too afraid to confront him because I didn’t want him to be angry at me. I got scared when he was angry, as I so often had been with my dad. In his anger, Adam did things that were so out of character. He yelled. He called me names and cursed at me. He threw things. He stomped his feet. He threw a temper tantrum. Just like our kids would. Just like I would. Just like I did.

While I was afraid of my husband’s anger, of the kids’ anger, I was even more afraid of mine. I welcomed it, at times, because it made me feel stronger. Although I was out of control, there was a power in anger that made me feel like I could change things. I could make things happen. I could make a difference to the way things were, the way I didn’t like, the way that left me feeling helpless and inadequate.

I felt unworthy not just with Adam, but even moreso with the kids. Because it was bad enough feeling like I was a lousy wife, but I knew if I let him down, Adam was a big boy and could manage himself. If I screwed up with the kids, though, I’d just ruined their childhood. They’d grow up scarred and feeling less than and never be able to become successfully functioning adults because their mother was such a mess and couldn’t possibly provide them with the emotional security they needed to mature effectively. And, in the deepest, darkest, most neglected corners of my fretful heart, I believed none of those were really statements that should be preceded by IF but WHEN.

I felt I had a love-hate relationship with the kids. I love them to pieces because they are my kids and they are these amazing little people. And I thought I hated them because they have this way of magnifying every flaw, every shortcoming, every insecurity I have ever had. And then I’d feel like a terrible mother, because what kind of mom hates their own kids?

Then again, maybe it wasn’t so much hate as fear. They’d horrify me in their ability to magnify every one of my flaws, my shortcomings, my insecurities for the whole world to see. Through the kids, I was sure, everyone everywhere could see and know and understand just what an imperfect person I am, just how much I fail every single day, just how bad I am at all the things that really good moms seem to do so effortlessly.

What really scared me so much was this: I have long feared if I was not good enough, if I didn’t live up to all their unspoken expectations, no one would love me.

I believed if I wasn’t a good enough wife, or at least obviously trying very hard to become one, Adam wouldn’t love me. If I wasn’t a good enough mom, my kids (once they had grown enough to know better), all my friends, all the other moms, and society at large wouldn’t want anything to do with me. If I wasn’t a good enough person, God would soon tire of me. Maybe I’d still be let into heaven, but my mansion wouldn’t be in the best neighborhood, I’d have trouble keeping the golden street in front of my house shiny, and my crown definitely wouldn’t have very many jewels.

For most of my life, I’ve been trying to prove I’m better than I think I am. I’ve been standing guard, frightened that someone might see my own little man-behind-the-curtain and be disappointed, disgusted, angry at what they found, who I truly am. They’d know they really were better than me, so they could go ahead and justifiably act all superior now. I didn’t deserve their friendship and maybe not even their pity. After all, I’ve been hiding all this time, pretending to be a good person like they are, when actually, I’m just a mess.

Yet, maybe, could it be, that’s how it is with all of us? We’re all just the little men-behind-the-curtains trying to be these great wizards?

Girl's Feet Behind The Curtain

Because we’re all so scared to let one another in, to get close, we don’t realize that we’re comparing our messy basements with everybody else’s dusted and polished front parlors?

And maybe that’s why true, deep community is so important. Not so much because it will make us better people as we’ll all be accountable with one another (though, that’s good too), but because we’ll see that we all have messy basements. We all have struggles and failures and fears and needs and stupid ideas about how we’re supposed to be, but unless we start getting honest with one another, we’re never going to believe it. We’ll always feel less than, because we see everybody else dressed to the nines for an evening out, but we compare their formal wear to our own closets full of all the outfits we hide: the sweatpants we wear to bed, the stained t-shirts we lounge around the house in because they are so comfortable, the summer wardrobe that’s two sizes too small because we’re going to lose that extra weight this spring . . . .

God, I’ve spewed a whole lot of words out here. Thank You for meeting me in this place. Thank You that my fears are not the truth. Thank You that, no matter how far I fall short of my imagined goal, You love me just as much. You want me just as much. You care about me, just as much as when I finish at the top of the class.

My treasured child, My love for you is so much greater than you realize. You are worth so much more than you fear. The strength of your heart is so much greater than any of the ways you may ever fail or fall short. And the strength of My heart is greater still. Rest in Me, Precious One. Let Me show you the great beauty in the brokenness you see, for it is there, even when you cannot believe. You, Beloved, are beautiful. The messiness you see now is only temporary. When you can see in the Light of eternity, you will be astounded.

Winter

I am excited to share you can find me in The Mudroom today.

The word appeared fully formed in my brain as I sought an adequate description for this sense of emotional paralysis. Winter. I rolled it around on my tongue, playing free-association word solitaire.

Winter is cold. Winter is dark. Winter might be beautiful, but it’s dangerous. Winter scenes offer hauntingly lonely images of stark black branches in bright white snow. A tree stands bare, a mere shadow of her leafy green summer self. Deep inside, where none can see, she’s getting ready. Letting go of rusty autumn leaves, she began this long winter’s nap. The tree awaits her time . . .

Winter header image

Head over to read the rest of Waiting for the Thaw, and spend a few minutes getting to know the work of other wonderful writers in The Mudroom!

Why I Didn’t Post the Photos

I had a parenting win this afternoon. Yet, ever since I almost posted the photos on Facebook, I’ve been second guessing my motivation to share my success.

What is my purpose? Do I simply want affirmation that I’m really rockin’ this mom gig? Or is it a little deeper than that, a little darker? Maybe it’s a subtle way to prop my own ego up a bit because I know there would be people looking at the picture, reading the witty comment, and thinking, “I could never do that.”

The thing is, most of the time, I absolutely do NOT feel like I’m rocking the mom gig. Whether it’s arguing with my teenager, trying to explain to my son why “I’ll just get dirty again” is not a reason to eschew his body wash in the shower, or finding yet another dried out apple core under the couch, I find at-least-daily reminders that my mission to care and feed these growing humans involves a lot of failure.

I go online; I scroll through social media; I see other moms helping their littles make snowflakes to decorate their windows. I find friends taking their children on field trips across the country (or around the globe). I read about moms who are not only raising more kids than I have, but running a successful business to support their family, and enjoying Saturday afternoon mani pedis with girlfriends.

Taking all of this in, I want to be those moms. I want to make crafty projects with my kids and hang them up around the house. I want to see my kids smiling as we travel and learn new things. I want to support my family and enjoy time with my friends without my kids feeling neglected. Instead, I find myself sitting on my unmade bed, having never changed out of my pajamas after I woke up this morning, eating a very social-media-unworthy snack, and feeling bad about myself.

Perhaps, I wanted a change. Maybe, instead of seeing everybody else’s photos and reading the stories of how well they’ve mommed today, I wanted to be the one with the great story. But the fact is, I’m never going to succeed as “that mom” because she doesn’t exist. I watch little tiny snippets of other people’s lives, those pieces they felt were worthy of posting and pinning, then compare it to the whole mess at my house. So, what would I gain by posting my own winning moment? Fifteen minutes to bask in the glory of likes and way-to-go GIFs? Possibly. But in the end, I would lose.

Actually, we all lose. In posting another tiny, pretty snippet, and pretending like that’s what my life looks like, I am perpetuating this imaginary culture of almost perfect moms in almost perfect homes raising almost perfect kids. In trying to boost my own sense of self, I’d be the reason some other mom is looking at her house or her kids and feeling less than. And that would suck for all of us.

I don’t want to pretend to be that mom anymore. I already expend too much energy battling my own expectations of what a good mom is and does. I don’t have it in me to craft this airbrushed image of what reality doesn’t really look like.

Frankly, we’re a mess. Every day, we’ve got stuff we’re tripping over that needs to be away and plans we’ve set up that just aren’t working they way they probably should and people yelling  about something that may or may not truly be unfair. Right now, I’m listening to videos streaming from two rooms and music competing from another. And I was all about having Advent family devotions this year. That would be one of those plans not working as I think it ought.

And in reality, as opposed to the fantasy land of perfectly framed photos shared with mixed motives, I am loved. Period. I am not loved despite my mess; I am loved right here in the middle of it. I am not loved because I am winning at adulting today; I am loved in my jammies at 7:00 p.m., feeding my kids gingerbread cookies with rice and calling it supper. I am loved because I am me. I am even loved when I’m doing my best to pretend I’m not me, because I’d really like to be someone whose life looks a whole lot more put together.

I don’t know what your fears and failures are today, but you are loved, right there on your face in the mud wondering why you ever even bothered trying.

Dirty child crawling on wet black sand beach

And, if this has been a good day for you, you are loved. Love does not depend on how well you’re doing whatever it is you’re called to do. Love just is. You and I and everybody are all just loved. Just because you are you, you are loved.

Lately, a lot of my days have been one of those days. And in the heat of battle between what I know and how I am experiencing life, it’s too easy to get caught right back up in striving for perfection to prove something to myself about how valuable I am. I completely forget the truth I have already learned and need to be reminded of once again.

You are so valuable to Me, My child. You would like to roll around in the muddy shame of what a bad person you must be. I ask you to let me cleanse you. Let Me pour over you as Living Water. Let Me bring breath to your lungs. Allow Me the honor of washing you and purifying you and dressing you in brilliant white as My beloved bride.

It’s not about what you’ve done wrong. It’s about coming to Me for all that is right. Even as you bury your head in shame, I lift up your chin. I wipe away your tears. I tell you how very much you mean to Me.

You are beautiful. You are beloved. You were painstakingly created and are being tenderly refined. You are loved beyond your capacity to measure. One day, you will see and you will know. In the meanwhile, continue to live in Love the best way you know how. I am here, always, everywhere, loving you.

Multiplication

Beauty is not just what you see, it is who you are. You are beautiful. You are a shining light in the darkness. You don’t simply reflect the Light, but Light shines in you and through you as you move and live and breathe in Love.

Be love, do love, make love today. Shine love into places where Love is hard to see. Shine love on people who are huddled far from Love. Let love grow and flourish and multiply in you.

How? How is a question I’ve grappled with most of my life. Sitting in Sunday School, listening to the lesson, my mind was already racing ahead to application. How could I take the truths I was learning and put them into practice in my own life? I’m not sure whether I ever really asked about it. Probably there were some points at the end of each class where we were encouraged to read our bibles and pray and be kind to people, but that didn’t really get to the heart of what it was I needed to know.

How do I love? How can I love when it’s hard? How can I act in love toward those who do not love me?

I was praying about that the other morning. I was caught up in a whirlwind of feeling ashamed, terrified that I don’t have what it takes to do all the things I need to do. Even as I was receiving words of delight and love and affirmation, I wasn’t feeling it. Instead, I was sitting down at the bottom of a mucky ditch, covered in grime from head to toe. I wasn’t beautiful. I wasn’t desired. I wasn’t even worth the time it took to waste on those words.

Then I heard something a little different.

You can’t be free of the muck if you keep picking it up and rubbing it on your face to prove how dirty you are.

Oh.

Perspective is an interesting thing. It makes what you are looking at appear completely different. Almost immediately, though, I was right back on the rug in Sunday School with questions I wasn’t sure I had the words to ask. How can I understand what I’m not really able to see? How do I see from another perspective?

The answer I got can be summed up in two words: with God.

Simple sometimes isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Being with God, talking with God, listening to God, sitting still and staying silent with God, breathing in Love and breathing out Peace into all the circumstances and interactions I face everyday sounds like a lot of work. As I look at everything that’s already on my To Do list everyday, it seems more like a burden than a blessing to be trying to focus on Love all the time. But then there I remember multiplication.

Learning the times tables is a very unpopular activity here at the Hutchisson homeschool. It’s hard, it’s annoying, it’s (that dreaded word, said with an exaggerated droop of shoulders and rolling eyes) boring! I have spent years trying to teach times tables, but one of my kids still struggles with sixes, sevens, and eights. We are studying algebra this year. We’ve talked about how much more complicated the math gets when you have to stop in the middle of solving an equation to figure out the product of 8 × 7. You get distracted and lose your place and forget to bring down a negative coefficient. By the end, even though you’ve done all the computation correctly, you arrive at the wrong answer.

I think learning to love is kind of like math. Sitting at Jesus’s feet, meditating on love and grace and delight, starting the day with a reminder of the experiential knowledge that I am loved more deeply than I can even comprehend: all these things help me to see from a different perspective.

In the background, I hear younger me asking, “But how do I do that?”

And here is the place I don’t really have an answer. I don’t know how you most readily experience love. I can’t say what is the best way for you to interact with God. However, here are a few ideas I have found helpful in my own life.

  • Immanuel Prayer Journaling
    For me, the process of joy journaling has been incredibly helpful, more so than any other single activity. I heartily recommend the resource Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel written by E. James Wilder, Anna Kang, John Loppnow, and Sungshim Loppnow.
  • Bible Reading in Multiple Versions
    I have also found that reading the bible in different versions often offers me another view on familiar passages. My favorites are The Message by Eugene Peterson (I usually start here because the flow of the text is generally quite natural and easy to read) and the New American Standard Bible.
  • Research
    Sometimes, when I’m really wondering about the language in a particular passage or the cultural context, I’ll also check out other translations and commentaries and the online lexicons at BibleGateway.com or Bible Hub. And when these leave me with more technical questions than answers, I’ll often talk with someone who has experience in bible translation or biblical culture. It’s good to bear in mind when doing research that the bible was never designed to be an answer book, but a book of wisdom that offers the stories and experiences of others as they interact with the Divine so that we might discover more true knowledge of God in our own lives.
  • Sitting Still
    The term “meditation” had a lot of spiritual baggage in the churches where I grew up. I imagined it with brightly colored pillows, billowing clouds of incense, and chanting nonsense syllables. Really, though, meditation is simply a relaxed focus of your mind and body on a particular thought, feeling, or action. Honestly, I have trouble with the literal (in)action of sitting still. Thankfully, meditation doesn’t require actually sitting still, but can be part of taking a walk, doing housework, or any other repetitive task that can be done without to much conscious thought.
  • Every Day
    Okay, this is more of a note than a practice. Whatever I happen to be doing on a particular day, specifically setting aside time for God is the only way I know to make this work. Whether that means you schedule a time on your calendar, pray in the shower, listen to an audio bible while you exercise, or something else, making a habit of interaction with God only works when it’s actually habitual. For me, this means daily. Right now, first thing in the morning, often before I’ve even made it out of bed is the best time. At other points in life, lunchtime or the end of the day has worked better. What’s important is to keep reaching out, whatever it looks like for you. And when a few days (or weeks, or years) have passed, and you realize you’ve stopped, you can simply start again.

A popular author in the world of paleo eating has a catchphrase she uses when it comes to making life changes, “It’s only effort until it’s routine.” I have found that to be useful in my life. Adopting different habits, whether they are related to diet, sleep, or spiritual communion, can be a struggle. It can seem too hard and not really worth it. But I can tell you from personal experience, meeting with God every day, over and over and over again through weeks and years and good times and hard times is absolutely worth the effort, multiplied exponentially.

Meet with God. Know you are known. Be loved.

be love do love make love-s.jpg

To Bear All This

It doesn’t feel like love when I’m on my own
It doesn’t feel like love to be the only responsible one
It doesn’t feel like love in the hurting and hurting and hurting
It doesn’t feel like love when I’m scared and alone
It doesn’t feel like love to bear all this weight on my shoulders
It doesn’t feel like love in the tears collected in my chest and pouring from my eyes
What kind of love is this?

When things aren’t going the way I want or hope or plan
When nothing seems to be right and everything is going wrong
When I am overwhelmed with all there is to do, to be, to have
I need more
I need something
I need a love that feels stronger and closer and greater

So, here I sit with empty hands
Here I come, with my heart cracked open
Here I am waiting, demanding, afraid
Still hoping my doubts are mere shadows
In the face of Light
Still hoping my needs really will be met
In the face of Love

My blessings are on you, child
Even the ones you can’t recognize right now
In this cloud of doubt and fear and wonder
Blessing is what rests upon your shoulders
Let Me hold you here in the shadow of My wings
Let all you do be done in peace
For I am giving you all that you need

shadow of my wings-s

Communion

The 3:00 a.m. hour is not a great time to be awake. My eyes are burning, my head is hurting, and my joints are achy. This all doesn’t sound very grateful.

1-never ever alone-s

Thank You for the blessing of Yourself. Thank You for being here. Lord, I can only believe this is Your mercy, because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. That is not, perhaps the best path to faith, but tonight I’ll take what I can get.

Thank You for the presence of so many people standing with us physically, spiritually, emotionally. Thanks for waking people up who are usually asleep, just to pray. Thank you for the gift of family, those who are ours by birth, those we choose, those who have chosen us.

2-in every step i am-s

 

I thought I was sitting here ready to listen, but I guess I’m not. I don’t want to hear that You love me. I am not ready to hear how You’re right here with me in this now and whatever the next step is.

I just want to know I’m going to be okay, that it’s not going to get even harder. That’s what I’m afraid of: I’ll have to try even harder, to do even more. I’m afraid I am still not good enough to be loved, that I still have to prove it. God, I know that’s a lie.

I know that’s a lie.

I don’t have to prove anything because You already love me with all of You. There is no space beyond where You already love me that You could possibly love me more.

God, the thought of being even stronger terrifies me. How much stronger do I have to be? How much do we still need? What will I have to muster up the courage to provide? I feel like I’m all alone in this. I don’t know what to expect and I’m afraid to ask anyone my questions because just thinking them leaves me shuddering in sobs.

3-through emotion i am-s

I’m afraid I’m not enough to handle this.

That’s it, God. I’m afraid I simply don’t have it in me to do what I’ll be asked to do. I won’t have the strength to love in the practical, mundane, frustrating ways we each need to be loved.

I don’t feel loved right now. I feel expected of. I feel impinged upon. I’d hate for anyone to feel like a burden. And yet, how is it that’s how I’m thinking about them?

I need to hear Your wisdom. I’m starting to really bother myself with these thoughts. Please, God, give me truth!

You are not alone. You are never, ever alone. In every frustrating, heart-wrenching, terrifying step, I am with you. Through each relentless, bewildering, devastating emotion, I am in you. There is nowhere you can be where I am not.

I need to be done now. I’m full. I’m exhausted. Amen.

4-nowhere I am not-s