Saturday, January 19, 2013

History and Hope

Is it just me? Or are we in a season of struggle? And for once, when I say, “we,” I don’t just mean me and my family. I think I’ve already established that we’re there. And we’re working our way through it.  But as I pause and take a look around me, I am suddenly very aware of the struggles in the lives of those closest to me. There is cancer here, death of a beloved family member there, struggles to raise a child with special needs, extended unemployment, not enough employment (you know, when technically you have a job, but it doesn’t cover all the bills and needs – never mind the wants), oh wait – there’s cancer again, debilitating chronic pain, a home that is broken into and violated, a gross injustice that carries on for months – maybe years, family members who can no longer care for themselves, family members who won’t grow up and take care of themselves. On and on. And that’s just in my little circle – my little corner of the world. It’s exhausting. And draining. And, yes, let’s just say it, a little depressing.

How do we keep going amidst all this hurt, pain, and struggle? If you’re like me, it doesn’t always cut it to turn to a positive mantra about embracing the pain; bucking up and plowing through despite of it all; light at the end of the tunnel; things will get worse before they get better. No. That really doesn’t help. My husband used to say, “well, it can’t get worse that it is now.” I’d give him a level stare (sometimes a glare) and icily ask him to refrain from saying that because you know what, it really could get worse (and oftentimes did), and while I’m not superstitions, I’m not willing to tempt fate – or anything else –  by throwing that out there.

In long, Saturday afternoon conversations, (the woman who is practically) my sister often gently reminds me that this life is just preparation. It’s not the end goal. Our eyes need to be on heaven – not this broken place that is full of trouble. And while I’m in agreement with that, there is part of me that cries out for just a little bit more here on earth. While I’m here, I just need a little something to hang on to when it gets rough.

Two of the things I hang on to, are history and hope.

History is important to me because I hang on to everything. Just ask my husband. Getting me to get rid of anything is nearly impossible. Every issue of National Geographic magazine from 2001 to 2003 that I never even read? Keep ‘em – I might want to read them some day and my daughter might find them interesting for a school project. Every paper that I ever wrote between Kindergarten and Senior Year in college? Got ‘em – it’s my evolution as a writer and I need to know where I’ve been (even when I was there in crayon). Personalized cards printed with our address from three homes ago? Check. Day planners from a decade ago? Check. (Almost) every note from my best friend in high school that we passed between classes (not telling you how old those are) for four years? Check. I . Keep. Everything.

But all joking aside, I keep things because they are part of who I am, and they tell me where I’ve been. I keep a record of my experiences for the same reason. And in times of trouble, I can look back on those records and see the journeys I have been on, the mountains I’ve had to climb, the valleys I have wandered through, and yes, the fact that I have come out on the other side of those every time. And in each of those records – journal entries, cards, notes on post-its – I see consistently who has walked beside me each step of the way; keeping promises; staying faithful; holding me close. This personal friend and stalwart companion; this God of all comfort; this Jesus is woven into my history. He is the reason I have evidence that I can get through life’s stormy troubles – whatever may come. And He holds the key to my other talisman: hope.

Hope has been called many things. Emily Dickenson said, "Hope" is the thing with feathers—That perches in the soul—And sings the tune without the words—And never stops—at all. The writer of Hebrews says that our hope is an anchor for the soul. philosophy skincare put hope in a jar and charges $115 for eight ounces.

My hope comes from knowing my world is held in the hands of the one who created it – and that His plans for me are good. I don’t always know what those plans are – and that is such a struggle for a person who does not like surprises and who likes to plan everything – but I’m learning to trust Him more each day, and that will be enough for now. My hope comes from promises kept – His promises for my care and, yes, comfort. Some of them have wound up being pretty miraculous. But they’ve never failed. My hope comes from seeing changes around me – mainly in myself as I’m striving to be better than I am now, but also in those close to me who are pulling close to Him, and then evidencing change in their lives as well.

What about you? What’s your history? What’s your hope?

It’s a broken, troubled world out there. And it’s not necessarily getting better. But I believe we are called to hope in this broken time: to have hope, and to be hope, and to show the way to hope. Having a history of promises kept and faithfulness in evidence, gives me hope, and calls me to come ahead to another day. To another journey. To another bend in the road. There will always be something before us: some mountain to climb or some valley to go through. We can’t stand still. There is only moving forward. But to do so with history behind us and hope before us – well, that makes all the difference in the going, doesn’t it?

Monday, January 14, 2013


I’m having to pause and take a look – another long, hard look – at my example as a parent. Not my favorite thing to do. It usually means a brutally honest assessment of my behavior, usually my not-so-stellar highlights, and the decision to make a change based on that assessment. Seriously. There has been nothing like parenting to encourage change in my life. I’ll admit that while it’s generally for the better, I don’t always do it willingly. But I have to. Because as I’m finding out – sometimes the hard way, sometime the easy way – your child becomes a reflection of who you are as you parent them.

Now, no free passes to adult kids who continue to make bad choices. We all get to a certain point where what we do and who we become is all on us. Own it. But when we’re little – when they’re little – the little, bity humans are following our lead; watching our moves; emulating our behavior. Reflecting.

My eight-year old daughter has been having a tough go of it lately. I know some of it is probably related to the struggles we’ve experienced as a family over the past several years. You can only shield so much and then reality starts leaking through. Others are related to the choices she makes – not always the best – but they’re learning experiences. Some of it is related to the phase she’s growing in to. I’m not fond of the new word “tween” (that lovely demographic between middle childhood and the teenage years), but that’s where she’s landing. And so many issues that I thought would hold off until the actual teen years, well, they’re showing up now. Girl drama. Boy drama. Eye rolling. Attitudes that need adjusting. Heaving sighs. Cleaning Room Drama. Oh wait, that one’s been around forever.

How she responds to this; how well she’ll roll with all these changes; surges; and shifts in her landscape are going to be based on many things. One of them is me. I’ve known this – known I have a little mini-me – for a while. She watches her Mama like a hawk and takes her clue from my every move. I wish she wouldn’t.

What I really wish is that she’d let me write a blog just for her – about how to navigate these changes –  and use that as her compass and map for the journey. Not the real me. Not the messy me that struggles with a DEFCON 1 level temper; the impatient me that tries hard (and fails all the time) not to yell at bad drivers; the sarcastic me that disagrees with many school rules and struggles not to roll my eyes when Halloween parties are not held in the classroom in order not to offend the witches.

That reflection is a lake just moments after a hard rain falls. It’s not serenity. It’s not smooth.

So I’m back to doing the brutal assessment and making some hard choices about what’s really important. Like why, after all these years, do I still have such a temper? Why is it so important to me to hang on to my anger? What purpose is it serving? It must serve something – I’m still dragging it around. Why am I so impatient? What does it cost me to be more patient? Is there something about that cost I’m not willing to pay? Sarcasm and rolling eyes: they were game – set – match when I was a teenager. Maybe even twenty-two. Are they necessary now?

Are all these things I choose to hang on to worth the image I’m continuing to create for my daughter to reflect? It just looks shattered. Broken.

On the other hand, some of my best lessons in desert living have been in grace, letting go, and learning to find beauty in the emptiness or bareness of the desert. Dare I translate that into “beauty in brokenness?” So maybe I’m not presenting my daughter with an air-brushed, magazine perfect cover of what my life and my response to life is. Yes, she sees my temper, and my impatience, and my sarcasm. But I hope that amidst all that, she also sees my attempts to cultivate an attitude of real thankfulness – even in hard times where you have to work hard to find things to be thankful for. I hope she sees my commitment to rely on my faith and my God – especially in my most difficult moments. I hope she’ll see the times when I’m willing to be gentle, compassionate, and yes, vulnerable, instead of keeping my armor on the outside. And most of all, I hope she sees that I’m constantly working to change who and what I’m reflecting. It is a balancing act, and one I’m sure to be doing for a long while yet, but all the balancing and continual honing of this person that I am, will all be worth it in order to create a better image for her to reflect.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

At the Beginning

We did it the way we do it a lot these days. New Year’s Eve – quietly. A pile of movies – sometimes a marathon, sometimes not. This time not – just some favorites that make you think and make you laugh and make you appreciate what you have. Sometime after dark, two new tiny, cheap, plastic cups – seventy percent off at Target – but still so sweet, and holding something sweeter still: the Asti we always manage to smuggle away for the one special night. Every clock in our house has a different time, but we guess midnight when the fireworks surge and go wild – and yes, one lone clock reads midnight. So we call it. And sweeter still, have a kiss or two to ring in the New Year.

Then crawling back under the new sort-of Christmas present down comforter to finish the movie. Pause. And a big sigh. Almost an expletive from both of us – wondering where did this year go? Where did the years go? We take a moment to reminisce, and my-oh-my, they seem to have flown. Has it really been almost ten years since the little one was born? Since we made that arduous trek back to the place I used to call home and then back to the place that really feels like home now? Yes it has.

If I look too closely, and with too critical of an eye – which I do. All the time. I might see just the lack – which I do. All the time. Too long at a job that made me crazy and actually started to hurt, really hurt physically. Too long without a job for both of us – at least the kind you’re supposed to have as a responsible grownup – the kind with security, benefits, and paid time off. Too much struggle, the kind that really wears and tears on a marriage and a family and makes some of them fall to the wayside. Don’t think I haven’t watched with bated breath as it happened around us – watched it hit house after house in our neighborhood, until I felt like the Israelites in Egypt on the night of the very first Passover – praying that if I spilled enough something, sacrificed enough something and put it over our doorway, that it would pass over us too. When you live with months and years of mounting losses – large and small – there are just some you know you can’t number and survive in whole.

But over the course of those months and years, I made other discoveries, too. I found my metaphor for this life I was living: desert wandering. And discovered God’s blessing and presence in the desert. Desert living streamlines you; focuses you; hones you. It prepares you for what’s coming next. The beginning of the next step was discovering One Thousand Gifts*. And Eucharisteo. And learning to give thanks in all things. And finding out that thanksgiving really does precede the miracle. And there were miracles – let me rephrase: there are miracles. Because our barrel of meal and cruse of oil – the promise we claimed almost three years ago – has not failed. It continues to provide. He provides. We are not in the lap of luxury by any stretch, but we have food, and our home, and Lord, thank you, even a “new” dryer when ours died out the Sunday before New Year’s Eve.

And now, another year. Thanksgiving preceding a miracle. Maybe. But I’m not focusing on that. I’m just working on being a day-by-day kind of woman. That’s one of my desert lessons. Enough is given just for one day. Time is parsed out for us in segments that we can manage: twenty-four hours at a time. More than that and we collect worry that we can’t manage. Trust me – I do that all the time too. Trying not to. In the same way that the Israelites were given their manna in the desert (enough for one day – but no more – or it would spoil) I am given blessings enough for one day. And tomorrow is an adventure waiting unto itself. Of course, I’m still a planner, and an organizer, and a dreamer. So I imagine other things unfolding this year: things I will write: consistent, contemplative musings here on my Three Bees; places I hope to go: I would like to see my family in the islands this year; things I will be able to do: walking – I imagine being able to go for long walks in the woods again. In their own way, each of these things, and my other secret dreams, would be miracles. And all are preceded by my counting thanks again. Working to find my one thousand things to be thankful for – from the silly to the sublime. And all leading back to another quiet kiss at midnight in 364 days.

* One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp