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.
I recently went to one of those canvas painting classes, where participants get step-by-step instructions in order to end up with beautiful artwork after two hours. I love the creativity! The time with friends! The challenge! And each time, I eye the example piece and nod my head, thinking, You can do THIS!
I’m always excited to get started, but by the end of the night, my gusto dwindles. Although I’ve had fun, I look at my work and know its earned a place in the garage.
This is not natural to me. I’m not an artist.
In the rare case when I draw for my elementary students to explain some kind of concept, I also have to explain exactly what it is I’m trying to show them. “This (rectangle with legs) is a horse,” I say, and they respond with sad, sad, we-can-do-better-than-that looks.
So, instead of wanting to hide my work (it’s a reminder that I fell short), I’d rather reframe this experience because I really do likethe everyone-can-paint-idea. We all may not be fantastic at it, but we can enjoy it.
What I’ve learned about making art (with paintbrushes, a canvas and well, in life):
1) When in doubt, ask for help. When painting a forest scene, the details on my trees looked all wrong. After getting some help and changing my technique, things looked more accurate by the time I got to the last tree (sometimes, I’m a slow learner). I also got some profound encouragement along the way.
“You’re looking at the finished product, but you’re not there, yet.” Um, yes. Always, it seems. And then, I pray because I need help.
2) Sometimes it takes more time. How often dowe look at where we are, mad that we aren’t where we think we should be? I look around at others’ progress and want to be where they appear to be– with them.When painting, I second guess myself and work too slowly, so when I get to the part that really counts, I’m slapping on details and running out of time.
3) Which brings me to—> be patient with yourself and your needs. I never have enough painting time and get so behind, I don’t even listen to the instructor anymore. It would be okay to take a break and get back to it later. Maybe I should buy the supplies and try to finish another day. It would feel scary to try it alone, but who knows what might happen?! Same thing with everyday things– forcing it sometimes just makes things worse.
4) Lose focus on perfection and have courage to make it your own. When I paint with a certain end in mind, I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up. And everyone will laugh. This time, some of my tree details took the shape of fuzzy caterpillars, so I gave one of them a smile and legs (although it felt wrong and still does, it’s growing on me). It seems like this gets easier later in life. Maybe our older and wiser self begins to care less about what others think.
5) Relax and go with the process. I had a great time with my friend, but I didn’t relax. I was stressed and ended up with a stiff neck the next day. Putting less pressure on myself and being grateful for the experience means finding more joy in the doing. I’m still learning.
Sometimes what we have in mind at the beginning of a journey takes a different path if we have the courage to let go of our expectations.
Imagine walking into a cozy house where those inside are waiting just for you. You are welcomed with smiling faces and hugs all around. You’re here! On the table, there are steaming bowls of soup and plates overflowing with warm bread dripping with honey butter. Sounds of laughter and buzzing conversation fill the air.
In this space, there is time and a place for everyone. Time to talk while others eagerly listen and honestly but lovingly respond. There are stories of exciting adventures intertwined with difficult ones, told with tears streaming. Here, it’s okay to let tears fall. This is a place of safety, where no one is perfect but accepted despite flaws that come with being part of humanity.
Time seems to pass without anyone giving a second thought because here there is connection. And that is what we want, what I have always wanted, to connect and absolutely know I matter.
I have always enjoyed cozy gatherings with those I love surrounding me. There is just something about sitting with knees pulled up to chin and shoes off in the midst of deep conversation. It’s like being wrapped up in a warm blanket and engrossed in a book, oblivious to everything around. Whether it is eating with loved ones, playing games, working a puzzle or reading next to someone else reading, I am in my element. Introverts like me love that.
I am drawn to cozy spaces that whisper, Come. Relax. Stay. It’s no wonder, then, I have pictures like this from trips I have taken over the years. Many of them, I settled into for a while. Others, I passed by. feeling I missed out terribly on something precious.
This is what I’d like this space to be. Precious. Read my stories, and share yours if and when you are comfortable. Occasionally, there might be a recipe or quote to share, but mostly, there will be stories of adventure–> life, forgiveness, growth, stories that have a glimmer of hope even in times of pain or desperation. I haven’t always done this well. Things have been tough. Life is a messy adventure, after all, and it’s never too late.
So, here, you matter in the midst of this messy adventure. You are welcome to my table.
With the holidays wrapping up, I’ve been thinking about how we are bombarded with shopping deals and images of things we begin to believe we need. Yet, there are reminders around this season as we show love to others and remember why we even celebrate, giving without expecting to receive. That’s what was modeled for us when Jesus was born — a gift given to us, no strings attached.
Some of us give, give, give all year long, our time, our money, our talents, but sometimes the strangest thing happens. We refuse kindnesses that are shown to us. Yes, we hear it’s better to give than receive, but we should allow others to show love to us. And that can be hard.
You know that awkward moment after having dinner with a friend when you offer to pay and the person argues with you about it? I have been that person…or I deflected a compliment someone gave me until it lost its star power (and probably left the compliment-giver frustrated).
Why do we refuse? Why do we argue rather than choosing to let someone do something thoughtful for us? I’m sure there are lots of reasons, and I know for me, it has to do with the issue of worthiness. Sometimes I struggle to appreciate aspects of myself (usually during stressful times when I’m so frazzled I find a measuring cup left in a bag of frozen berries or forget why I walked into a room when I went in there to look for something I lost). Then, I feel like I should be making better choices and SOMEHOW I could have made my circumstances different if I had just done something else rather than what I did. That’s when I have a tough time being on the receiving end of something special.
It’s a challenge to receive the truth about ourselves, isn’t it? We are worthy of respect and love and kindness of others–whether we feel and believe and know it or not, whether it’s a good day or a tough one. We have been lovingly made and are worth the time God and others pour into us everyday. These gifts do not exclude any one person on this Earth, despite our imperfections, mistakes and sometimes horrible choices.
I am learning more and more to receive the truth of my worthiness everyday. I’ve been thanking God for this, and you know what I’ve noticed? It’s settling around my shoulders like a warm blanket on a winter’s day.
Right now, I’m in this funky place where some of what I was comfy and cozy with has been pulled out from under me before I knew what was happening. It’s a rocky place where there’s a multitude of questioning and desire for quiet–lots of time to think. My heart and mind beg for space as if I’m crammed into a box and can’t stretch and run and jump. When I have carved out time to do what I think I need (practically every day), my mind feels unsettled and races on to the next big thing without stopping to rest. This is foreign, and I’m not sure what to do with it.
I have to wonder if this all has to do with trust, here in this uncomfortable place. Trusting God the way I want to seems easy(er) when I’m okay with all that swirls around me. In this space, I’m having to learn how all over again.
I just so happened to run across this poem weeks ago when I thought I should tuck it away for another time. So glad I did. It’s exactly what I need right now, at this very moment. And you?
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.