A Birthday Surprise

I didn't make this graphic and don't know who did. In the words of a friend, "I love/ hate it."
I didn’t make this graphic and don’t know who to attribute it to (the teacher in me would add an apostrophe) ; however, I agree with a friend who said, “I love/ hate it.”

I’m not sure what I had in mind exactly for the future; I guess more time at the same jobs we’ve loved for years. It was out of my hands, though, as much of life is. Next year, my work will look a little different than it does now.

When we make life decisions, we have to live with them, but sometimes it’s even more difficult when life makes a huge turn, having zero to do with our choices. We are left a little lost and bewildered, wondering something along the lines of…

What did I do to deserve this? (And for me…during my birthday week?)

But after the shock lessens, it ends up having more to do with what we actually do with what happens to us. When things are out of our control, it can feel terribly lonely. Fear creeps in, and there are more questions than answers. Hope? Well, it feels impossibly far away. Trusting God has a plan, roller coaster-like as it may be, brings me some peace even when what’s happening makes zero sense. I’m learning when I feel worried and anxious about exactly what next year will look like, I have to say out loud, “Okay, God, I know you got this.” I am not an expert at it, but I’m finding more and more, um, opportunities to practice it. Hearing myself helps me believe it when time stops at the top of the roller coaster. It’s there, when my eyes are closed, and I’m edging closer to the next breath-stealing, hurtling ride into the unknown.

So, at first, this change felt like a deep, dark question, but it has become instead a big, bright possibility. I don’t know how it all will work; I have no idea. But, I realized something else as peace replaced my initial fear. Somewhere deep down, I have longed for time to pursue some other things but expected that would only happen at retirement (in a million years). Don’t get me wrong; I love my job as it is now, but here it is, this surprising gift placed in my open hands.

 

Gifts of Words

The evening summer sun felt warm on my neck as we traipsed through the wooded path over the bridge that led to the little cabin. The six of us chatted as we walked through the screen door, filled our plastic cups with cool blackberry tea, and settled into the comfy chairs circling the fire pit. The humid air felt heavy, yet the music of insects and bird songs brought a lightness to our retreat from the busyness of the day. Distant thunder and the plunk of acorns falling onto the tin roof surprisingly added to this peaceful place. As the sun slowly slipped into night, the twinkle lights strung across the wooden posts and the strategically-placed candles left just enough of a glow. So we leaned in to listen while others read the gifts they brought for us.

Gifts of words.

bench-and-tree.jpgI have loved this writing group from the first time, when I took a deep breath and read some of my work. To a writer, there’s something magical about connecting with those who also savor beautiful phrases or have an unusual perspective on the ordinary. Here, I am surrounded by those who also carry that delicious stirring of stories bursting to be placed on a page and shared. Realities of life with its joy, heartache and everything in between are read aloud with quiet strength, despite fear that whispers inadequacy. We speak into one another what we hear and know, as we relish the moments in this precious, vulnerable space. This is not a place for comparison and judgement but one to celebrate as we journey further one step at a time.

I am thankful for these beautiful women and their gifts of words. 

 

Moving to the Edge

Our dog Glory loves riding in the car, but it hasn’t always been this way. When we adopted her, she trembled in the backseat until we got home, even though my friend talked to her gently the whole time. She’s had a lot happen to her; much of it we’ll never know. She came to us with scars on the inside and fears of all kinds. In those days, it was mostly about being abandoned.

Things are different now with two dogs, but there are times when those old fears return. When we went to the dog park, what should have been fun with other dogs seemed scary to Glory. After walking around the fence with us once, we took her off the leash, ready to let her run. Instead, she made her way to the front gate and just sat there. Eyes red and breathing deeply, she did not, would not move, no matter what we said. I guess she connects that kind of freedom with being left without her family. I want to tell her what I know about the dog park: This is fun. Dogs LIKE this place. You are safe, and we’re right here. And I feel sad because she doesn’t understand. Maybe she will one day if we keep trying.

I wonder if God sees us the same way. He leads us to a place that might ultimately bring us more peace than we’ve experienced, but all we know is we don’t like change. Yet, we try it out, tiptoe-ing down that bumpy path and turning back when it gets too hard to navigate the way. After all, we make a cozy bed in our comfortable place, put our feet up and prepare to stay for a long, long time. Things aren’t bad there, right? We become used to okay. I wonder if God feels sad about this because he knows things could be so much better for us.

When I am challenged to move to the edge of what I know, I am like Glory–heart pounding, deep breathing, trembling. My head believes even this has meaning, but all I really want is to burrow into my still-warm bed and hide my head under the weight of the comforter. I don’t know how I will handle feeling lost, and I worry I will be unsettled forever because somehow this is hauntingly familiar. I trust there is goodness on the other side; still I am scared. Why would anyone want to revisit this?

And then comes my reassurance:

Be strong and courageous, for I am with you. Do not fear, for I am with you wherever you go. –Joshua 1:9

It’s when I remember right smack in the middle of my wavering– God is here, too, and has never left–that I start to loosen my grip, one finger at a time. This is a long, slow, seemingly never-ending process because I move forward, push back, take a step, jump back, want to control. I cry and breathe and pray.

Then, I’m shocked because I realize I’m fighting against my own release.

And although my fear makes sense to me, pulling away from what I ultimately need does not. So, I bravely push back the covers and get out of bed. Once again, I’m taking one step at a time further and further into the unknown but closer and closer to the edge of freedom.

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On (Emotional) Strength Training

Be thankful for each new challenge because it will build strength and character.                                                                          ~Author unknown

“Shush!” I told my barking dogs, holding their leashes until my knuckles turned white. The three of us stood in the dark of the early morning, directly across the street from the staring coyote. Practically dragging my heavy dogs towards home, I hoped my past workouts made a difference so I wouldn’t let go. The coyote kept its distance but followed us, and my heart pumped out of my chest until we were safe inside the house.

Days later, I came home and let the dogs in the backyard. As I glanced out the window, Journey and Glory were suspiciously staring at the grass. I ran-walked out there, not sure I was ready for what I would find. “Did Glory teach you to eat poop?!” I asked Journey, who had something brown in his mouth (gross, I know, but HE doesn’t like that kind of snack). When he dropped it, I picked it up with my bagged hand, you know, the way only dog owners pick up these things. It squished, I screamed, threw it down and shuffled those animals inside the house, completely disgusted. When I went back, I saw a very slobbery and very dead mouse.

I called Brian and gushed about the sheer grossness. “Get the shovel and get rid of it.” He said, calmly. It took a while, but I launched it over the fence into the woods.

mouseA week later, when I opened the door to let the dogs out one last time before bed, I saw something scurry by me. I whipped around, and a little brown lizard was hanging out on the wall right inside the door. So, I called Brian (who usually dealt with these things) at work and told him what was creeping around our home. “You can wait for me to get home if you want.” Hmmm...what if it went into our bedroom?!

I even took a picture so he could see why I was terrified.

I must have been shaking, and I’m sure it was bigger in real life.

If others saw me spring into action, they might have thought something was seriously wrong (with me). I don’t know how long it took, but I was sweating by the time I trapped the lizard in my Fit & Fresh lunch container with lid. Journey hung out right next to me the whole time, despite my wild screaming, praying and positive self-talk.

By now, you’re probably thinking…she’s a dramatic, weak, silly girl. Well, after these situations, I was thinking that, too, and wondering when did that start? When did I start being afraid of little things? I lived alone before marrying Brian and took care of myself. I have handled a lot in my life, as a strong, brave woman. What was my deal?

I don’t know. Maybe I’d gotten comfortable. Maybe God thought I needed some courage and strength training.

Apparently, I needed to start with three pound weights and work up to the heavy stuff like: ongoing health issues and tests that showed more problems (nothing like cancer but still frustrating), trying to get pregnant (or even ovulate, for that matter), and times when I am just so tired of STILL healing from sexual abuse (I believe this hard work is never done). Oh, yes, and trying to sell our house.

Those things aren’t easy. Then, sometimes when there’s so much uncertainty, I get irritable, bossy and controlling, and that doesn’t help my marriage.

Then, I read something powerful by Anne Lamott.

When God is going to do something wonderful, he or she starts with a hardship. When God is going to do something amazing, he or she starts with an impossibility.

In the middle of these sometimes impossible situations, I’m grateful for the little things that have (re)built my courage. Seriously, though. I’ve had enough. I don’t want to bulk up from all this strength training. I’m ready for something amazing.