(what?? i’m writing about christmas??), and coming home

they used to call me “the christmas nazi” in my family.

just as they were getting in tune with wanting to live pared down, simpler for the holidays, i was returning from my first year away at college and wanted it to all feel magical.

i needed family to feel safe and christmas to feel like magic. but it didn’t. it never did.

i was the one leading the charge through the cut-your-own-tree lot the day after thanksgiving (like we ALWAYS did… duh). i was the one turning on “decorate your tree with love”, the same kids’ musical song we had sung every time we put up our tree for a decade. they threatened no tree or a fake one that would last year after year, and i would have none of it. i absolutely had to have white lights and allthetraditions.
my mom used to wrap up the baby jesus from the nativity scene, and we always had to open that one gift on the hearth before any others, even before our stockings. we had to have apple coffeecake and christmas egg casserole.

if we ignored any one piece of this, i was afraid... afraid the magic wouldn’t come, wouldn’t sparkle in my soul. that the shimmer life had seemed to lose in the ordinary moments over the past couple of years would never return.

and it’s true. it wouldn’t.

all the holidays lost their *magic* for me somewhere along the way. chalk it up to growing up. cold shoulders instead of kisses under fourth of july fireworks. family family family, complete with all their expectations on our time and giving it. driving 6 hours in the darkness that separates christmas from its eve.

and now with kids, the internal pressure to make this christmas, this birthday, this whatever-holiday JUST PERFECT.
i told him today “i just don’t want him to be disappointed.”
it is my basest and most widespread motivation for everything in life: not disappointing. not being a disappointment.

not letting holidays be a disappointment.

as life went on, there were all these years where it literally felt like a conjuring, trying to make those magic moments happen, trying to find that perfect gift, and always sing O Holy Night on the eve of the day.

and in those times, there was the added hope that maybe God would show up this time.

i had found myself lost, in a daze, and couldn’t make my way out of a fog that just kept enveloping, snuffing out one more and one more candle that had lit the path of my foundation. maybe THIS year, i thought each year as christmas approached, he will come. jesus will come in the mangers, and he will take this opportunity to really COME for me.

i waited(ish)… and filled my days with christmas radio from black friday to december 25th (and not after).

[i also had the same thought at easter time: maybe THIS year, he will resurrect within my own heart, i will know his New Life for reals.]

there was something that seemed special about this time, something that carried its own magic that had nothing to do with the person it celebrated. it was fun and exciting… until it always ended… disappointing.

last year, i took a different journey, one that moved deep into my heart-spaces, abiding with prompts and my art journal, and holding that space sacred for his presence, without demanding sparkle and tinsel and lights. it was beautiful, and began a journey into his heart i’d have never taken if i’d let christmas be what it always was.

if i am really honest, there is a part of me that would rather just “fall into” the holiday season, be wrapped up in strands of christmas lights and comfort food and peppy-nostalgic music, and introduce my boys to everything i have ever loved about this time.

and yet, it just never hits my core. and i need core. i need the deep places opened in the darkness. i need flickering light and ancient paths. i need him.

this year, from advent through epiphany, i am taking a journey with a brave and beautiful woman leading a group of brave and beautiful people who are thirsty for something more than sparkle. (and i couldn’t be more excited)

thrashing: day 31: give voice

don’t you hate when your computer freezes, forcing you to shut it down, just as you were finishing a blog post? and then it’s somehow not even registered in your drafts, so you’ve lost all your words and all the formatting you just spent all that time on? and the post was all about using your voice, your words, even if you don’t know anyone is listening? yeah, me neither. never happened to me.

let’s see if i can bring back the highlights:

 

i have a voice.

it is quiet.

especially when i’m not sure people are listening. 

especially when i notice someone is listening.

it makes me want to stop and suck all my words back into my mouth, make sure they were worth saying. because if someone’s listening? it means i am speaking, and maybe i have something worth saying, but maybe i don’t.

i backpedal as soon as i see the eye contact, the nod, the comment. it makes me nervous when people listen. it makes me feel like something is wrong.

i only raise my hand to speak up when i know the answer. the right one.

and if my answer ends up being wrong? the heat of shame spreads fire across my face, and my words fall like ash.

but i have this sense that it is time. to open myself, open my mouth, no matter what happens.

she says, “you are an incredible writer. you just need to see it for yourself.” she is right about this: i have to believe it for myself before i will start moving forward as if my voice matters. (but i’m not there yet most days)

they say, “you should sell your art! it is amazing!” (but i know all that goes into that and the energy and time commitment to dreams that may not pay off.) i’ve been there, done that.

but i am no longer “the stuck one”,  you know.

and i really do long to move my words and art beyond the confines of this studio, to let them be held and touched on all possible sides, let them move out of me and fly free to unknown destinations, where they will have the chance to be cherished, rejected, loved, burned, seen. where they can move with another spirit in grace and freedom and truth.

so.

i am moving toward this. toward myself. toward God. toward exercising the muscles i have been given. toward putting myself out there, going naked.

 

and also.

 

i’m doing NaNoWriMo.

 

the end.

goodbye october, hello november!

(here’s to putting voice to the story-currents in me! *cheers!*)

 

thrashing: day 28: change your mind

i told someone last week that i often feel like “the stuck one”.

i often feel powerless. powerless to be heard, understood, powerless even to let my voice free of its chorded box. powerless to change, powerless to move toward God and love and healing and beauty.

like my story is on repeat.

my life seems to add up to all these moments of feeling helpless and settling into daily resignation.

but she tells me: you are not powerless. maybe you were once powerless, when you were a child. but now? you are only as stuck as you believe yourself to be. there are all these options available to you, all this energy.

i have a hard time believing that, looking at my dailies and the housework that never gets done and the stove that never cooks my meals, and the budget that is a thousand dollars in the red every month, and the shame that i always seem to let win, and the way i don’t raise my voice to the occasions where it is required. and a defiant 3-year-old who gets his way much too often, and a baby who never sleeps. and all the emotion-spirit-body battles i can’t seem to find the strength to fight, much less win.

and it is easy for me to fall into the trap of believing i truly am stuck, and it’s not up to me, because i am incapable of changing any of it. because, look at how successful i’ve (never) been.

so i wait for that moment when the externals feel less sticky, and it never comes.

but that’s okay.

because today? today, i believe her.

today, i am changing my mind.

today i am unnaming something that has long laid its roots deep in me.

i am NOT the stuck one.

i am powerful and brave and held and strong and free.

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(…remind me?)

thrashing: Day 25: Walk away

i am waiting, anxious for the patient to arrive. the paramedics called ahead about the 3-year-old girl they are bringing. they wheel her in, surrounded. there are EMTs on the bed with her so they can continue CPR between the ambulance and the emergency room.

compressions. breaths.

starting IVs, giving drugs, fluid boluses, electrolytes.

compressions. breaths.
compressions. breaths.

we continue what they have started as we hook her up to monitors and keep administering fluids, drugs.

compressions. breaths.

with any other patient, my morbid coworkers would have referred to her as “already dead“.

but how do you give up on a 3-year-old girl?

compressions. breaths.

drugs. keep checking for any signs of life.

she is cold and we warm her. you can’t “call it” until her body is still not responding, even at normal temperature.

i step in for my turn of compressions as someone continues with the mask giving her breaths to my right. i will myself to numbness as i press deep into her chest, little hope left.

compressions. breaths.

the doctor is running through all the possibilities, resisting letting go of this little one. the nurses, too, are fighting for her, refusing to give up even as the doctor is saying “time of death:...”

and yet. she was already dead.

nothing we could have done would have made any difference. but we had to try.

and then? walk away.

***

there came a moment for me three years ago that literally felt like a resuscitation.

i was alive for what felt like the first time.

and, so, naturally, i wanted to invite everyone into this newfound freedom. i would tell my story and ask about theirs.

but they seemed numb. they couldn’t see the beauty i saw of going deeper and freer. they were content.

i kept trying to be the person breathing air into dead structures, trying to circulate Life and healing in the deepest venous caverns.

but they didn’t seem to want what i was offering. they wanted to stick with their safe system that felt so soul-killing to me.

and as i offered the life i had been given, and received only offers that felt like death in return, i knew.

i had to walk away.

(for now)

(because how do you give up on them? they are still so beautiful. so worth loving.)

thrashing: day 20: visit the dark

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my back is against the wall as i sit on the floor in a dark house.
when it is dark, i always keep my back against something.

i sit here as a dare, to see how long i can stand it before my juvenile-feeling fear of the dark kicks in and i jump up to illuminate the corners, so rats will have to scurry away, shadows disappear.

but i am finding myself strangely at peace in the darkness. it is the first time i ever remember it feeling comfortable and actually even soothing to just sit here in the calm of the night.

it is as though my vision disabled is allowing my spirit to expand farther, be aware of more.
allowing me space to breathe.

i notice my breath. the shallow, the warm in and out, inhale, exhale, cycle.

i notice the sound of bubbling fountain water in the backyard next door.

but mostly i notice my internal workings.

surprised by my response to sitting alone in darkness, i am intrigued; suddenly more brave to move into the places in my own soul that have been so long darkened. those cavernous rooms that have had bits of rubble cleared away from the last cave-in before fear initiates another rumble and the way in is blocked again.

i don’t want to be afraid of the dark, like i have been my entire life.

i want to leave the light pollution of the suburban sky and plunge into actual dark, where the only light is real light. starlight. moonlight. where the night is truly that perfect inky black.

i want to explore the dark side of the moon, the hidden places. the unseen.

i want to dive down beneath the first few feet of water, still warmed by the memory of the sun, to the cold sunken-treasure-filled deeps.

to move around in the cave, only by touch, and see what there is to discover, what there is that can be held close and secret.

{and yes, even brought out into the light of day.}

Thrashing: Day 18: Celebrate freedom

i’m shaky as i write this.

i don’t know if it’s the glass of wine, or tired muscles from dreading my first nine locks, or if it’s the unsteady steps i am taking toward freedom. 

i am free. i know this.

but there is a cost to living out this freedom, to choosing it – over, say, people-pleasing. 

and i have been unable to make that leap. 

but tonight, i think it finally clicked. maybe. 

tonight i danced barefoot on my front lawn under a full moon. it occurred to me more than once “what the neighbors would think/say”, and i did it anyway. this is a new thing for me.

then i came inside, and with this song playing loud in my soul, i began the slow work of dreading my own hair.

i have been waiting, and i think part of me was waiting for permission from someone, in the form of agreeing to help create these dreadlocks i have been wanting for months. i hoped some kind of community would be available to me, their grace and acceptance and time and muscles. 

but tonight, as i was consciously choosing to step into my purpose, into freedom, it became clear that it was time. 

i am home alone this weekend, my boys at their grandparents, so i can engage with the Secret Rebel Club’s virtual retreat. my husband doesn’t even know, and here i am knotting my hair up beyond recognition.

and i love it.

i feel beautiful.

i feel like me.

i feel free.

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when we were on fire

when we were on fire, we let tears fall on night grass as we “rededicated ourselves to the Lord.” we vowed anew to let every waking breath be spent on saving souls from hell. we were twelve.

when we were on fire, we walked to the library together and sat a seat apart so that when someone occupied the in-between one, we could conspicuously begin to discuss John 3:16 and “did you KNOW that God so LOVED the WORLD??” 

when we were on fire, we claimed our neighborhood for jesus, and walked around it 13 times (just like joshua), singing “Our God is an awesome God” and praying the walls would fall like jericho’s.

when we were on fire, we decided that being a missionary was the only calling worthy of someone who was on fire.

when we were on fire, we memorized every Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Jaci Velasquez, Rebecca St. James, DC Talk, Newsboys, and Third Day song. we worked their merchandise tables and hung out with them at amusement parks. we played their songs at pool parties, and judged anyone who would dare listen to that “secular music” (except country. country was okay, for some reason… except we felt secretly guilty for loving it).

****

we could say all the books of the bible in one breath. 

we rejoiced when someone prayed the Sinner’s Prayer at “Action House”, and wept when she said “i didn’t mean it” the following week. we worried about her when we went to her grandfather’s funeral, and realized she came from a catholic background.

we had mountaintop experiences we tried to stretch out to all our days.

we learned about being a teenager from Brio magazine.

we signed up to be prayer partners with Dawson McAllister.

****

“we” became “i” as we went to separate christian colleges, and i was sorely disappointed at the lukewarmness of all around me. didn’t they care? 

i was also disappointed on “mission trips” that didn’t seem to have the same… fire? i’d come to expect. they would even *gasp* take one day out on the trip for touristy stuff (how can we be wasting our time here like that??). my mission trips before had always been hard. cold showers. squatty potties. scared to death reciting our memorized testimonies. serving from dawn till dusk, until every muscle ached, and it didn’t matter that our tent had blown away or been flooded while we were gone. we managed. so swimming in the caribbean? touring shanghai? it felt wrong, useless. i was about more important things than that. i was on fire for God.

i kissed dating goodbye.

i didn’t kiss anyone until my wedding day.

****

somehow, for me, being “on fire” went hand-in-hand with getting it all right. obeying all the rules, being godly, and finding the emotion to go with it in Singspiration worship nights and campfires. 

so as i have distanced myself from legalistic church structures, i find myself tempted to look at that girl that i was with disdain. how could you have fallen for all those shouldsy burdens being passed off as life? 

but i am learning, slowly, to have compassion. for myself. for my younger self. for the ones who are still on fire. to listen and welcome and embrace even those parts of me and the church that remind me of all the pharisaism of before. to witness it, and love God for what he has done, how far he has brought me into grace and the light of freedom.

when we were on fire synchroblog