Words

We all must learn to tap into our frustration, anger, and even sadness, and let it out, not as an act of vengeance or grief but as a salve to a world that is bleeding from ignoring its own wounds.

–Jeff Goins

Writing has always been a release for me. While it does tend to exert a pressure of its own in that words compel me to express them, when I push past the resistance and get it all down, I am lighter.

These days have been heavy ones, and a lighter way of being feels welcome.

But when I think of trying to put the past six months into words, I experience the oddest combination of emotions all at once rising up like a panic cocktail bubbling forth and refusing to be ignored. This is not something I want to word.

Am I ignoring my own wounds? Is my reticence to share what’s going on in my head and heart feeding some larger societal problem of failure to express? There’s certainly no shortage of expression on social media, to be sure. I fight the urge to scream my head off most days, but a social media platform just doesn’t feel like the best place to try to make sense of something that seems like an insidious, unnamed disease.

Since March I have felt like everything about the coronavirus was “off”. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it, and when I told someone it didn’t feel right in my spirit, he wanted me to elaborate and I couldn’t. I just knew something wasn’t right with what I was hearing, and I felt it soul-deep.

Over the past weeks, I have begun to learn things that explain why I’ve felt such stirrings of “This is wrong. This is just plain wrong.”

Any time I have questioned the narrative surrounding this virus, I’ve often been ignored or shouted down as a conspiracy theorist, because everybody knows if you question the accepted narrative, you think the virus is fake. I’ve been told that clearly, I have not lost anyone to Covid or I would be more sensitive. I lost two people near and dear to my heart. To Covid. Thanks for asking.

It is increasingly clear that this virus has become a political manipulation tool—if it wasn’t one from the start—and I daresay that by and large we as a people have shown an alarming willingness to shut up and do as we are told. The irony of We the People of the USA responding with such placidity is not lost on me.

Not far into the pandemic, it was discovered that a specific drug safely in use for the past 65 years was being used to successfully treat Covid and was saving lives. Suddenly, it was attacked as dangerous and pharmacists were forbidden from prescribing it for the virus. A few weeks later, we sent thousands of doses to Brazil to help them fight Covid.

A group of esteemed doctors stepped out from among their colleagues and spoke the truth about their experience with treating patients successfully with that drug, and those doctors were immediately attacked and censored. They lost their website. Some lost their jobs.

Something is seriously wrong here.

I have questioned the masking mandates and was told I am selfish and irresponsible and want old people and the immunocompromised to die. I love both groups and want them all to live long and healthy lives. I also like to breathe. At the beginning of the virus scare, we were told masks do nothing to prevent the spread of viruses, and scientific studies were presented as evidence. Shortly thereafter, the “science” changed and suddenly, everyone had to mask up for the good of everyone else’s health. I have quoted peer-reviewed studies stating the ineffectiveness of masks along with their negative effects on health. More name-calling and laughter—or, at best, a pat on the head and a run-along, crazy lady.

I am not stupid. I am not ignorant. I am not out to cause a ruckus.

I am a rule-follower. I also hate confrontation. So make no mistake: to take a firm stand against a mandate and a widely-accepted narrative has taken a courage I had to fight for, dig down deep for, literally beg God for, because typically, I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of girl if it will keep the peace.

And peace? Well, it is a gift I greatly prize, particularly within my family—a gift I have lately had to pray my hardest to even momentarily feel.

This has been anything but a peaceful time in our nation. In typical election year fashion, people groups are being pitted against one another and strife is stirred to keep the masses in chaos while one political figure after another releases a barrage of verbal attacks and threats. This election year is one for the books.

This year will be remembered as one of the most tumultuous in history.

One gratitude that I will not allow to go unexpressed is the small group of people who have stepped in as my tribe through all of this. You know who you are, and I pray that God blesses you immensely.

So here I am, offering out this expression as my word-balm for the bleeding world to encourage you, cherished reader, to make the effort to acknowledge your wounds, word them, and then let them heal.

My hope is that if we muster that courage, we will feel less alone.

I didn’t want to write.

I could say that I’ve started this post many times and couldn’t stay with it. But I haven’t, exactly. I guess I have done so in my mind, but that’s as far as it went. To be honest, I haven’t wanted to write about this at all because words make it more permanent than I ever want it to become.

But wording also allows me to get it out there and then walk away from it—at least on some level. I’ll take any level of escape at this moment, however short-lived.

There aren’t words to describe what the past four months have been like. There are plenty of words that apply—loss, disappointment, confusion, frustration, challenge, fear, bewilderment, pain. But they don’t fully paint the picture this season has presented.

There’s another word a lovely friend reminded me of today: growth. It’s a good thing I already knew that growing is typically painful, because otherwise that word might have come as more of a shock. But she’s right, and I can see it in those moments when the fog briefly clears and I catch a quick glimpse of a more seasoned me. I’ve heard wisdom is hard-won, and I’m telling y’all right now I sincerely hope I’ve gained some.

We lost my father-in-law in March, and I feel like our family hasn’t even really had the space and wits to grieve here in the surreal we’re groping our way through. It’s hard blinking foggy in the middle of whatever-day-it-is and remembering Papa is gone. A big part of me is glad he doesn’t have to slog through this mess, because he would be dumbfounded. But I miss him.

There are plenty of reasons to be grateful, and in brief moments of clarity I find hope in recalling good gifts from the Father’s hand, blessings I owe to the never-failing love of the Giver of all good things. I am grateful to the friend who stood in the gap for me this morning, who spoke life into my aching heart and reminded me of what I am (a glow-stick) and what I’m here to do (shine the light of the Former and make people smile).

Sometimes we need someone to help us remember how to live when all around us seems dead.

I’m tired. I’m over being preached at, shamed, ignored, misunderstood, and maligned because of my viewpoint on this ever-pervasive virus and my firm belief that we as a people are being played—not only regarding the mandates and restrictions surrounding the virus, but by the racial unrest being stirred for the purpose of keeping us so focused on our differences that we don’t notice what is happening under our noses by powerful people in meetings beyond my reach and above my pay grade.

And crazy as it might sound, I fully believe that this will all come with a price tag many are not expecting. And while I recognize that such poor treatment certainly puts me in good company, I’m just plain wearing out. It does no good to whine, of course, so lately I’ve been praying more and talking less. Eventually I will likely just shut up altogether because who am I? Only the “experts” get to opine, however indecisive or wrong or narrative-driven they may be.

It falls to me to keep my mouth shut, wear the mask, accept the information provided, and accept my fate without complaint. And so I stay home.

Thankfully, home is my favorite place to be, but it sure has a different feel when I’m here because going places is off-limits without masking. My hope is that I can continue to grow and somehow emerge from all this wiser and more grateful than before, that I remember the good and leave behind the disillusionment of being shamed by people I loved. Ultimately, I trust in God’s power to preserve the lessons in positive ways, to galvanize the good and let the hurt fall away. I have to believe that’s possible.

A profound glimmer of light has emerged from the handful of people who have come alongside and held my arms up through this dismal season. I can’t imagine making it through without my tirelessly uplifting husband, my beautiful mother-in-love, my beloved children and grandchildren, and our amazing school staff. There are others—they know who they are—and God is reminded of them all daily in my prayers. I will likely never be able to fully express how much our connection has meant to me, but I am praying God blesses them as only He can. Their kindness and encouragement have been a beacon lighting my way back out of the dark, and I will ever be grateful.

This has been a dark season, but I haven’t lost hope that there’s light yet to be found and shared.

I am a glow-stick, after all.

30

roseheather

She would be 30 today. We’d be celebrating, all of us together as a family.

Today, we mourn.

It’s been 30 years since we kissed her little forehead goodbye, and we still grieve.

Every day, but particularly every year on her birthday, I wonder what she would look like, what she would like and dislike, what would make her smile or feel sad. How she would interact with her sister and brothers and all the lovely people who’ve been added to our family over the years.

I wonder what it would be like to have her here.

Every year, this day has been hard. But today hit me harder than I expected and knocked the wind out in ways I wasn’t quite prepared to navigate. I cried pretty hard, bowled over by mama-grief and stay-at-home orders that have dragged on for weeks and a thousand thoughts I can’t begin to understand, much less put into words.

I need something to be normal, and so few things are.

Then I think of my sweet husband and the normal he is—the kind of normal that holds my world steady when it feels like it’s spinning off its axis, the kind that loves fiercely and forever no matter what is happening, what is hurting, what is off-kilter. He is a kind of normal I need in ways I too often take for granted. A kind most people won’t experience this side of Heaven.

Today, in the midst of the tears and pain and longing and if-onlies, I am grateful.

Happy birthday, Heather Rose.

Lockdown

MomMeAtHome

I’m on lockdown in my house with a pandemic out there and my mother-in-law in here.

A few weeks ago, my father-in-law, who has been my only dad since I was 15, took a fall and ended up in a rehab facility. The day he was put into that facility, it went on lockdown with no visitors allowed. No one. For the sake of brevity, I will skip to the part where he went sharply downhill, was readmitted to the hospital, and died a few days later. His graveside service was limited to family only, and the following day our county enacted an official stay-at-home order.

We asked my mother-in-law to stay here with us because we wanted to make sure she was safe, comforted, and among family instead of alone for the duration of the lockdown. She’s been with us now for two weeks, and when I think of being cooped up with my mother-in-law for weeks, the thought strikes my funny bone because I don’t imagine most people would think that sounded like a whole heap of fun. But she is, after all, a sweet little old Italian lady and she makes a great red sauce. She also made a really good guy who has been my husband for nearing 40 years, and she’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. We’re missing Papa, but we’re missing him together.

I don’t know how long this shelter-in-place will last. I don’t know how long we’ll have Mom in our lives. Hopefully soon, things will go back to some kind of normal. But I hope normal never looks quite like it did before because I hope we’ve learned a lot in the lockdown. I know I have. For now, I will be thankful for these days spent with a woman I am honored to call Mom. For now, I will be grateful for family and home and life. I’m glad she’s here.

An open letter to elderly-care facility personnel

RosePapaHands

My father-in-law, a beautiful man who has been my only dad since I was 15, spent a week in a rehab center in March. He was then sent back to the hospital showing evidence of less-than-optimal care while in the facility. We had no way of knowing the care he was (or was not) receiving because the facility was on lockdown with no visitors allowed due to COVID19. We lost him a few days later, and the world lost an amazing man who blessed the lives of many.

We got to spend his final day with him in Hospice Care–a gift from their staff that will never be forgotten. We stayed in for the next several days and some of us have only left home for his burial. Saying goodbye was never going to be easy, but it was made much more difficult because of the questions that will always plague our family regarding the likelihood of his life being shortened by a lack of quality rehabilitative care.

I’ll be honest–the thought of that sweet man being neglected is one I have a really hard time processing.

Since his death, we have heard numerous stories of advanced-age loved ones being neglected in rehab care facilities. That hurts my heart. Know what else hurts? Being told by doctors that most facilities caring for the elderly have sub-standard care, that by and large the attendants in such places don’t value their calling, and that it makes medical professionals hesitant to even release a patient to that type of facility because the prognosis automatically takes a nose-dive. I’m not sure why that came as a shock to me, but it did.

To clarify, not for a minute do I think all people who work in that type of facility provide less than optimal care. I personally know some wonderful caregivers, and I thank God for them and the vitally important job they do.

So here’s my message to those who work in such a place:

First, you are appreciated. You are seen. The work you do is valuable. If you haven’t heard that in a while (or ever), I am saying it now.

Second, please, if you cannot care for the elderly lovingly and gently and diligently, please find a new career. These people are precious to their families, and they are a treasure to our society. They are often under-appreciated, but these lovely seniors have seen so much we’ve never seen, experienced things we haven’t and could teach us so much if we care enough to listen.

We can’t look forward to more of their stories and being blessed by their presence if you fail to see them as worthy of your time and attention. Take the time to look beyond their condition, their needs, their complaints, their pain, and see them as we do. Please. At the very least, don’t be mean.

This plea applies to all the time, but particularly right now during this challenging time of quarantine when our beloved elderly are at your mercy and we have no window into the quality of their care. I beg you, if you can’t go above and beyond and love on our loved ones, at least do your job and care for them on a basic level. We count on you to keep our loved ones thriving, so I’m asking you to carefully consider the way you approach the job you do.

Please take care of our elderly family members. They are worth your time and energy. They are our very heart.

Uncovering

IMG-0012

I can hear the door creaking as I poke my head in, reminiscent of my childhood in southeast Georgia when we’d open the screen door slowly, trying to minimize that scranching sound the springs made. We never could fully drown out the sound. Part of the screech this time was having to retrieve my password, as embarrassing as that is. No denying it’s been a while.

I guess it’s weird that I’m back here, like coming home after a long time and everything looking and feeling different but vaguely familiar. Hopefully I haven’t been away long enough to be forgotten, but I would understand if I had.

I recently saw a post from Emily P. Freeman on social media where she re-introduced herself to her followers. What a simple but effective practice, right? I was intrigued reading the simple and lovely things she shared in a style that makes the reader feel like a friend. Somewhere in the nether regions of my overactive brain, I remembered having a copy of her book A Million Little Ways so I went into my office and retrieved it from the shelf. I’ve spent a few days getting back into it, and I admit I’m hooked. I feel like she is talking directly to this washed-up word weaver who wonders if she still has anything to say worth reading. I have to believe I do. So with her words encouraging me to dig down deep and find out, I’m going to give it a go.

I’m Lisa Easterling, waving from the Tampa Bay area of Florida where it is currently raining (my favorite kind of day) and because it’s somewhere in the upper 60’s, we have the windows open so the breeze can dance through our little yellow cottage. My husband Steve and I have been empty-nesters since our youngest got married in December a year ago. We have five adult children all married to amazing people we love as our own, and five grandchildren ranging in age from 2-19 whom we adore. After writing a couple of books a few years ago, I decided to go to college. I graduated last May with a B.S. in Early Childhood Education. I currently teach middle school at a local Christian community school, teach kindergarten and first-graders in a local after-school program, tutor at the local library, teach 5-year-olds at church on the weekends, and work on the editorial support team for an author friend. I love the ocean, but rarely get to visit it–a situation I would very much like to change. In addition to my deep love for teaching, I enjoy writing, reading, sketching, painting, photography, crafty things, music, cooking & baking, and perusing thrift stores for vintage kitchen items.

That’s enough for now. Hello again, and thank you for being here. Maybe we can uncover some deeply-buried God-purposed art together.

Smiles,
Lisa

Puzzle Piece

I

Though it may not make a difference, I confess that all too often
I have daydreamed things might change and that somehow your heart might soften.
I reach out to you in friendship, but get ridiculed instead;
When you hate that I exist, you make me feel far worse than dead.
Do you think I am oblivious to the way your eyes avert?
Do you know how your expressions and your words and actions hurt?
I am different—how I know this! I’m reminded every day.
It is written on your face and laced in everything you say.
But I should not be defined by what does not work perfectly;
I am more than just a wheelchair or a disability.
I may not think just like you do, may be sickly or obese;
By your judgment I don’t fit, but what about my puzzle piece?

II

In my world there’s so much noise that at times I cannot hear
Where a raindrop brings you solace, it’s a brainstorm that I fear
I speak softly; I speak loudly; Oft I do not speak at all;
Where you see me stilled by palsy, I can see me standing tall.
I’d give anything to tell you what is swirling in my mind;
What you can’t imagine losing I’d give anything to find.
I am under no delusion you can fathom how I feel;
I’d just like to know you’re willing to envision me as real.
You’ll see my unique artwork if you’ll look beyond my frame;
For us both to be of value, we don’t have to be the same.
I’d like to think this world might offer yet some small release
As I struggle to define the shape of my one puzzle piece.

III

All the times I’ve held my hand out, just to have my reach resisted;
I had almost given up all hope that a friend for me existed.
In a world where I must blend the way that I’m expected to;
My heart resolved to emptiness. Then one day there was you.
You didn’t see a crooked smile, a limp, a tic, an illness;
You saw a vibrant beauty tucked beneath peculiar stillness.
You were patient with my doubts and how I needed to adjust;
Where I once feared ill intentions, I knew you were safe to trust.
And I know you don’t want thanks, but still I’m thinking you should know
What a difference you have made and how you’ve helped me bloom and grow.
Just the way it made you smile to see my confidence increase
Has helped me love a world completed by my puzzle piece.

Lisa L. Easterling                                                                                                                                    

Worshiping in Beautiful Diversity

Forum-Transformed

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately, mostly circulating through social media, of Christians criticizing the worship styles and methods of other believers. This saddens me, brothers and sisters, on many levels.  If anything should be held sacred and apart from personal attack, it is our worshipful expressions toward our amazing God.

The trend seems to be specifically focused upon criticizing “modern” worship as “more like a concert than worship” and “just a loud, meaningless performance” and other such indictments. As though anyone can say for someone else that he or she cannot be worshiping as they make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

IntheRing

Our church has five campuses spread over the Tampa Bay area, and all five have modern worship styles. I am blessed to know–at least on some level–many of those who are leading worship on all five campuses, some of whom are in my immediate family. I don’t know a single person who is up there for a self-glorifying performance. Any performing I see being done is for an audience of One and for the planned purpose of leading those among them to God’s throne in corporate worship.

I don’t see a flashy concert with a frenzied audience. I see people praising. I see hearts softening. I see brokenness mending. I see lives changing.

At the Cross

That blonde girl up there jumping around and shouting, “In the name of Jesus Enemy’s defeated! And we will shout it out!” is currently saving for a missions trip. That guy playing the guitar? He was called to worship ministry in sixth grade and has never looked back. The guy playing piano? He just lost his teenage daughter and is infusing his grief into using his talent to worship the God who holds her in Heaven.

And that silver-haired guy down there dancing all around in bare feet? That’s a man who loves his Lord with all his heart and recognizes that in all of his unworthiness he is worshiping the One who alone is worthy of the praises of unshod followers and young missionaries and broken fathers and all the others living out their God-calling in wild abandon dancing on holy ground.

LayDownYourBurdens

One day into recovery from wisdom tooth surgery, I awoke this morning with the words to one of our currently oft-sung worship songs running through my head.

God is fighting for us! Pushing back the darkness! Lighting up the Kingdom that cannot be shaken!

It’s downright Scriptural. In a manner I’ve not seen in many other churches, we cover a variety of musical styles from country to hip-hop to pop to alternative to rock to classical to jazz and all in between. And believe it or not, we sing hymns. Sometimes we sing them in their original versions, often in beautifully blended a cappella harmonies. Sometimes the words are sung in a varied musical style, and sometimes parts of hymns are woven into more modern songs.

Jungle

It’s okay to sing only hymns. Never mind that many of our original hymns were sung to bar tunes, because all music was God’s first, and what better place to sing God-songs than in bars? My point is whatever happened to worshiping the way you want to, and letting everyone else do the same? We don’t all have to be holding our hymnals like a scene from American Gothic droning out “Bringing in the Sheaves” with all the joyful enthusiasm of a geriatric sloth to be considered real worshipers.

IveComeToWorship

The real worshipers are all of us, friends. However we express it, whatever songs we choose, whatever styles we employ, whether we sit or stand or jump around or dance barefoot. All of us whose hearts have been lit up by the Holy Spirit to pour out our worship to the God who makes all things new. The God Who heals the broken and delights in the dances of the gray-haired and the missionaries, and works His perfect will in and through the kid who said yes to His calling at 6th-grade youth camp.

We’re all in this together, believers. Let’s worship together, all of us, all over the world, in the ways and styles that suit us best as we praise the Creator of beautiful diversity and wide-open worship. Are you in? I am.

GloryForever

Freedom

 

Sky

These are busy days, but they are filled with renewal and awareness and purpose. Final assignments and exams for spring semester will be finished this week and a new semester in my education program starts mid-May, just before my teaching year ends. I’m finding my groove with work, school, and ministry involvement I love.

One of the best things I’ve ever done for myself was the Freedom class that culminated with the Freedom Encounter this past weekend at Grace. I’m not sure what I expected from the class, but I can assure you that I can’t capture the enormity of what actually did happen in my heart and mind. Some things defy words. I confess I have been hesitant to try to write out the jumble of thoughts darting through my head over the past three days. I have been fervently praying for God to reveal to me all that He wants for me, and I trust Him to do just that.

I was prayed over by two beautiful women of God during the Encounter. Daphne and Natalie prayed and spoke words of encouragement and direction over me, after which I couldn’t wait to get back to my seat to jot it all down in my notebook. So while this is all very hard to word, I have a Freedom notebook jam-packed with words that have been shared with me over the past nine weeks. I will be spending the next several days, weeks, and months unpacking the teachings shared by Kristin, Chris, Scott, and Jerry. Their wisdom has made a profound impact that will be a gift I open slowly and continually.

I want to be an invitation rather than an opinion. I want to welcome and not repel. I want to live fully into God’s purpose for me rather than shrinking back and accepting the lie that I am washed up, that my time was then and this is now and I have nothing to offer. I want to learn from what God revealed to my heart–that I am capable of loving and healthy friendship when I focus on Him and His Word, and that words of negativity spoken over me in the past need to be left there.

I want to walk forward in forgiveness and gratitude and compassion. I want to be unafraid to do what I am equipped and called to do. I want to love freely and wisely. I want to encourage others and take gentle care of me. I want to follow God’s lead with humility and grace, focused on His will for me. I want to lead by relationship and follow with respect. In all these things, I trust God to guide me.

I have camped out in the Psalms today, calling out with the Psalmists for God’s hand on my life and the blessing of dwelling in His house forever. I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (Ps. 27:13) For much in this life, I must wait. But not this. I will see His goodness in the here and now if I look for it. And believe me, I am looking.

 

27

roseheather

I’ve penned little verses for your day each year
My heart never emptied of weeping the why
Twenty-seven years still can’t fade the sad joy
Of reliving the day when hello meant goodbye

~ * ~
In Memory
Heather Rose Easterling
B/D April 18, 1990
~ * ~