How grace sets free prisoners like me

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Yesterday I watched my friend led off in handcuffs bound for prison.

In those few moments that seemed to stretch out like a movie before me I blinked away tears so I could see him for every one of those last few seconds. I thought about how if I, his friend, felt such anguish in those moments, how much more must his beautiful, devoted wife’s tender heart ache. His parents, too frail to be present. His beloved children, looking on in horror. His sister, whose slender, trembling shoulders my arm instinctively encircled.

I saw it in his eyes, the pain of sadness, regret, fear of the unknown. I juggled a million thoughts ranging from gratitude for what could have been a harsher sentence, to anguish for what he and his family must be feeling, to anger at those whose heartless lies and groundless assumptions had twisted his sin into something far more sinister than it ever was.

I saw something else, too. I saw my own sin. And yours. He was all of us, his soft eyes pooled with the penalty of wrong choice, of a momentary theft of reason by the one who would see us all imprisoned for eternity.

But our God has another plan.

Our God has a plan for life over death, freedom over bondage, victory over the father of lies.

As hard as it was for me to watch my dear friend led away yesterday, I know His God—our God—has His eye on both the sparrow and my friend. And I know He already has a plan for redemption, not only for my friend but for those whose lives he will touch in these coming years. He’ll be Paul for a little while within those high walls, sharing the love and grace of the God who never forsakes, whose love never fails.

And we will all be right here, praying and sending courage and visiting often as we can, reminding one another that this pain won’t last.

The Enemy gets but a short season, and then comes God’s glory.

So we live for that assurance and we encourage one another and we pour it all out on this man we love who faces a mission field the Enemy meant for evil but God will use for good.

And we share with anyone who will listen how the grace that covers him covers us all. Because he is all of us, really, in our daily mistakes and pitfalls and poor choices.

May I live these moments of this life grateful for the grace that sees chains loosed and freedom bought with the blood of the One who did nothing wrong.

I will never forget the face of my friend yesterday in that courtroom. May I never forget to tell the story of the God who loved us enough to buy our freedom with the life of His only Son, in whose eyes pooled the penalty of the whole world’s sins at once.

This is our story, all of us prisoners set free.

A real-life fairy tale: myth or magic?

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I believe in fairy tales. For the past 34 years I’ve been living in one.

Hear me out: I don’t go around telling people they must live a fairy tale because I do. Not everyone even wants one.

Some people want conflict–and by conflict I mean out-and-out fighting, arguing, screaming, belittling. Hatefulness. I can’t imagine why people would thrive on such things, but I understand not everyone thinks like I do and I’m willing to consider that some people might like that kind of “spice” in their marriage. I like spice. I don’t like meanness.

My husband has never said an unkind word to me. We’ve been together since I was 15 and for the longest time I wouldn’t even mention that little fact because I didn’t fancy people laughing in my face. And I have had people tell me flat out that they don’t believe me. I’ve grown to be okay with that. I no longer worry about whether or not people believe it, because I’m living it and in the end that’s what matters.

I’d like to say I’ve never spoken unkindly to him. I can say I’ve never intentionally been mean to him. I’ve been frustrated (as I’m sure he has been with me) and on occasion (especially at “that” time of the month) my tone hasn’t been as gentle. But it isn’t in my heart to hurt him.

We’ve never intentionally wounded one another. Believe it or don’t.

We don’t have to wound one another to have a spicy marriage. We decided long ago that playful imaginary fighting was much more fun and less damaging. It also fits right in with the goofball atmosphere we’ve always maintained in our family relationships–an atmosphere that still exists today among our family that has grown to include us and our five and their beloveds plus some grandloves. It’s working for us.

While I’m at it, I may as well go for broke and toss out a few more myth-busters:

  • There has never been a moment when I have wondered why I married him.
  • I have never “awakened one morning wishing we weren’t married”.
  • Our passion has never “cooled and settled into something less fiery”.
  • We have never “grown apart” or “realized we don’t really know one another”.
  • We have never had regular date nights.
  • We mutually placed our children as a high priority and it didn’t ruin our marriage.
  • We co-slept with our babies and toddlers and practiced extended breastfeeding and it didn’t quash intimacy in our relationship.
  • We were firmly attached to our children and it didn’t negatively affect our attachment to one another.
  • We practiced intuitive parenting as a team that included firmly enforced guidelines.
  • We are growing old together, completely crazy about each other, and are approaching an empty nest without fear.

When I say I’m living a fairy tale, I’m not bragging. I’m not gloating. I’m not thinking I’m better than anyone else. Who am I to deserve this? I am fully aware that I don’t, and I am more grateful than I could ever express for the grace that brought this magic into my life all those years ago and has sustained it all this time.

When I say I’m living a fairy tale, I’m not asking you to encourage me. I’m not even asking you to believe me. I’m just saying please don’t be mean.

Please stop trying to make it seem ridiculous, or less than real, or even outright wrong. I won’t ask you to live it, and I won’t tread on your choice of relationship style–even if I don’t understand it. Deal?

If I might be so bold as to ask one favor, it is this: Please don’t trade off any possible notion of living a real-life fairy tale by normalizing an erratic, conflict-ridden, it’s-all-about-me existence. Understand that fairy tale doesn’t mean perfect. It means walking through conflict with kindness and concern for the other. It means taking the blows life dishes out as one unit and facing it all together with one heart. It means loving, no matter what.

I never mean to boast. I only mean to encourage. This is a beautiful thing, and the truth is I wish everyone could know this joy.

Living a fairy tale is not trouble-free, nor is it repulsive. It is a blessing we embrace with one heart full of gratitude and hope. Before you knock it, you might want to give it a try.

You might discover a wish you never expected your heart to make.

The Discipline of Gratitude {Slow Down Challenge Day 5}

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Today’s challenge is living gratefully.

Three years ago I would not have been quite so familiar with this concept. Or, maybe I should say I wasn’t as chummy with it. I’ve always been grateful for what I have, always lived life humbled by the blessings I’ve received, the gifts I have lived. Gratitude comes as naturally to me as breathing.

But it wasn’t until I encountered Ann Voskamp that I really came face to face with gratitude as a way of living every single moment, the way living gratefully truly seems to slow time down. And slowing time down is something we all long to do–some of us more than others, particularly as we age.

“How we act when the worst stuff happens is correlated to our deepest beliefs about ourself and the world.”
— Jeff Goins

The challenge for today is to say “Thank you” for everything, including the inconveniences and annoyances. And presumably Mr. Goins does not mean it the way I sometimes say it, like today when the guy wouldn’t let me merge onto the interstate and I said something to the effect of, “Oh, thank you ever so much for not letting me in. I mean, that would have been FAR TOO NICE!” Ahem. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that isn’t what he means.

Saying thank you to the growth that happens when we are made to wait isn’t natural. In fact, it’s pretty hard to do. I’m not usually inclined to be grateful for delays.

I don’t wait well.

But I can easily see how what I do in the waiting times can define me in some fashion. Kind of like how willingly I give to someone who can’t give back. It’s a test of character, a test I have failed far too often.

But Lord willing, with some studying I’ll get better at it.

Am I interruptible? {Slow Down Challenge Day 4}

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Yes, it’s a roll of tissue, and no matter how many times I move it, somehow it winds up in photos. So I’m letting it have its day, in hopes that it will leave me alone.
It could happen.

Sometimes I think I live life somewhere between parentheses. But anyway.

First, to address the one leftover challenge from yesterday: Pick a Task

  • Pick one task you need to accomplish; write it down. Empty the dishwasher
  • List all distractions that stand in your way. Cell phone, needing a drink, mind wandering, apathy
  • Share the list with one person who can hold you accountable. Retta
  • As you work, glance at your list and remind yourself what really matters.
  • Turn off your phone and/or silence other pieces of technology, while you do this task. See how much better your can concentrate when you focus.

What struck me during this challenge is how few distractions I have overall at this point in my life. Today I am completely alone, so there isn’t much to pull my attention from what I “should” be doing. Honestly, one of my biggest hurdles now is lack of motivation. Might have to get Lucy to poke me with a stick now and then.

Today’s Challenge: Let Go.

This includes welcoming, and planning for, interruptions.

If I’m completely honest (and I always try to be), I am guilty of getting annoyed by interruptions. For someone who is so creatively wired and happy-go-lucky, I can on occasion get my fip-flops in a frazzle when things pop up out of the blue (which is my favorite color, but I digress). This doesn’t happen often (the annoyance thing), but once in a while it still does. Today’s challenge spurs me to be more expectant and less wary of interruptions, to just roll with them as they pop up. I’m very much a roll-with-it kind of gal, so hopefully this won’t be terribly difficult.

Earlier this week a cousin posted about how annoying it was to have visitors show up unannounced. I admit this can be a pet peeve for me, too. It got me to thinking, though, why that annoys me. I know it isn’t because I don’t like company, or people, or socializing, or being hospitable. I think it’s more the lack of time to prepare, to make sure the house is tidy, to brush my hair and be dressed in something other than my Jamaican house dress, to make some coffee and have fresh muffins emerging from the oven. I just like to be ready. I’ve become rather fond of solitude, but I really do like hanging out with people.

I’ll be pondering all this today, home alone for most of the day until my family gets home.

And I’ll be on the lookout for interruptions to welcome.

“We don’t become who we’re supposed to be by checking off one more thing on the to-do list. The path to legacy comes to those who help others, who make time for interruptions. Those are the people we remember. And that’s the kind of person I want to be.” –Jeff Goins

Slowing Down {Days 1-3}

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My friend Retta encouraged me to join her in the Jeff Goins “Slow Down Challenge”. I gladly accepted.

I’m a couple of days behind, so I’ll combine Days 1-3 here.

Day 1 was Noticing.

One thing I noticed was a hawk just outside my office window, feet firmly pinning a small critter of unknown description to the ground beneath him. I could see movement but couldn’t see what he’d caught. I dashed for my camera, then had it poised to snap the picture through the window when he clutched his prize and took flight, too quickly for me to see what he was holding OR capture a picture. I guess some things just have to be savored in the moment and recalled in words rather than photos. We can’t always freeze the image, but we can still give it permanence in print.

Another notice was the sound of the air conditioner coming to life, blowing cool air against my neck and setting my baby hairs to dancing. I don’t often think about how grateful I am for air conditioning, but here in Florida life would be very different without it.

Since Day 1 would have been Monday and that happened to be the day I spent some leisurely time with my beautiful friend Retta, I want to mention her as one of my focused notices. There is something unique about my friendship with her that I keep trying to word, keep trying to even understand in my own mind, and every time I try to pin it down with words I come up short. I tried again on Monday and failed again. I am grateful that she doesn’t think I’m weird for my failures. No, Retta is one of the most patient and gentle souls I have ever known. Friends now for ten years, we only hugged for the first time in person a bit over two weeks ago. There is something almost ethereal about now having her living close by. I almost feel like I’m afraid to touch the trail of pixie dust, fearful it might suddenly blow away and leave nothing behind. But she and I have talked about walking together in a better direction–walking in light and hope instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Too many days have been wasted in both of our lives to waste even one more waiting for something awful to rob us of the beauty of this life. And if we get to share it, I want to celebrate that for the gift it is.

Day 2 was Savoring.

“Because sometimes our biggest frustrations turn into our most beautiful moments.”

In response to this challenge I sit back in my chair and listen. I don’t watch much TV in general, and to be honest my usual response to hearing the TV playing is mild annoyance at the intrusion into my hearing space. This time, though, I listen with my heart. It’s a football game tonight, and the truth is football games on TV have historically been one of my favorite things in the world. Daddy and I used to watch it together, and I’ve watched with my family all through these years of our life together, these years of my husband and me raising four boys and a daughter, all of whom totally dig football. These thoughts make me smile soul-deep and I savor the moment to the sound of NFL theme music and all the memories that flood in.

Day 3 is Addressing  the Myth of Multitasking.

First off, I’ve always thought multitasking was a good thing. You know, something the most efficient among us do with pizzazz. I mean, multitasking seems like the only way to survive this life of motherhood and wifing and home management, right? How can it not be a good thing?

In theory I can see how doing too many things at once dilutes the focus on any one of them. I suppose I do understand that each thing I set myself to doing is worth my full focus at the time. Kind of makes me wonder why I didn’t think of that before. Probably because I was doing too many things at once.

I’m pondering the task assignment for today and will work on that tomorrow since it takes a bit of pre-planning. Stay tuned for more on that in the next post.

All these thoughts of slowing down are reminding me once again of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and how gratitude slows time down. I always love reminders of Ann’s beautiful message.

Tonight I will be doing further thinking and soul-searching in regard to things God has been whispering to my heart. Friendship is figuring prominently in my thoughts lately, so it’s likely that will be at the forefront.

“Busyness robs us of the gift right in front of us.” –Jeff Goins

Straining for the sound of my own voice

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I started reading a blog today that I think may have liberated me. So to speak. Or at least got me to acknowledge that I try too hard.

How does one try too hard to be authentic? Isn’t that something like space folding in on itself? It just sounds weird.

But all things considered, I think Boo Mama may have brought this girl a little bit of freedom that I didn’t even know I needed. And I’ve gotta tell you, I’m feeling pretty appreciative at the moment.

So here I sit with a few things to think over with regard to my writing, and my voice that comes through my writing.

For starters, I worry too much about measuring up to other bloggers. Yes, I know the Sunday School lesson about not comparing, about seeing myself for who I am and not worrying about anybody but me. “I know that, Gump!” But comparing is a hard habit to break, I’m here to tell you.

I’ll have some time tonight to sit and ponder all this since Steve and I are having an evening in to hang out just the two of us and, well, just be.

I love those evenings. And I’m not sure if I love them more, or less, when I’ve got a whole passel of things doing jumping jacks in my noggin. Dadgum, but it’s crowded in here!

Speaking of oddities jumping around in my head, an observation that has me a little baffled is the way some kids grow up and suddenly forget everything they know about the two people who raised them, treat them like a couple of aliens. Hello? Remember me? I’m the one who sat by your side mopping your forehead while your fever raged, the one who bailed your butt out of the fire when you didn’t have the money you needed for such-and-so. I’ve always been here, always been trustworthy, always had your best interest at heart, always been me, always given you all of me and then some. I mean, I know you’re a grownup now, but frackination! Remember me?!?

But I digress. Sort of.

Back to finding my “authentic voice”, if such a thing even exists. If I have one, what does it ‘sound’ like? Is it the quaking little kid afraid of her own shadow hiding from bullies in grade school? Is it the wildly busy mama dashing from one kid need to the next so dazed I almost missed my own 30th birthday? Is it the strong, confident woman I felt like when I turned 40? Or is it the hormonal, pensive dreamer who has only discovered she loves painting about the time she’ll slap 50 upside the head?

In the words of my beautiful little daughter at 18 months old watching preschoolers toddle onto the stage in white tutus, “Mama, which one is me?”

The one thing I know for sure is that I don’t know for sure. And that I am stinkin’ determined to figure it out.

Life through the lens of before and after

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Recently while cleaning my studio I came across a group of photos taken several years ago while preparing for housework. I’m a sucker for before/after photos, and these particular shots must have presented quite a contrast considering the disheveled mess that leapt from each image.

I couldn’t help but muse that the “after” shots were not included in the bunch, although in my mind’s eye I recalled how clean and well-organized everything looked after all that work, how pleased I was with the end result. Interestingly, I don’t recall ever printing those images of “after”.

I couldn’t put down the photos but kept looking through one after another, recalling items shown and the memories attached to each one. I saw our now-grown-up offspring as children playing and singing and rushing from room to room silly and serious and full of life.

And it hit me that I didn’t need the after pictures to see the beauty. It was right there, staring back from piles of dirty dishes and messy bins and wrinkled clothing.

Don’t get me wrong; I loved having a clean house. But I didn’t have to look past the before to know that the after would come.

Sometimes life feels like one big before picture, messy and chaotic and overwhelming. Kids are loud and dinner is late and the batting glove got left in the pants through the wash cycle again. There’s no sugar for the sweet tea and the dog ate the VBS craft and the battery in the ten-year-old car is dead, Jim.

Gazing out from that before picture can feel pretty dismal.

But here in the after, where the kids are all grown up and the house is tidy and all is quiet save for the sound machine set to “rain”, it looks very different.

It’s pretty, and organized, and shiny. But I miss the mess.

I miss sticky fingers and waking at 5am on Christmas morning to make sure the kids didn’t wake before us. I miss the rush of ballgames and dance classes and drama team rehearsals. I miss piling us all into the old Toyota hatchback and watching little fingers poking from beneath the bathroom door.

I miss the before.

I like the after plenty, and it brings its own brand of chaos. But gazing at those photos of piles and mess and chores needing attention reminded me of how much I miss the days of before. It makes me sad for every moment I wished away, and maybe a few where I just didn’t stay present enough.

And slowly it dawns that today is tomorrow’s before. The photos I snap today will be snapped up in afters tomorrow and I will miss this, too.

And I ponder these things in my heart, all these befores happening right here and now and realize that I will want pictures of this to hold in my hands one day—pictures of this beautiful mess with all the memories these moments have created.

And I gratefully vow to stay present in the right now.

. . . . . . . . . .

 

A Write Where It Hurts column post

This girl looking back on the dads in her life

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I was 12 when the call came that Daddy was dead. I would spend the following days in a fog, only half aware of my surroundings as I went through the motions of visitation, funeral, burial, and well-wishes from family and friends. I didn’t know it then, but the full impact of the loss would take me a lifetime to realize.

One would think a girl who only had her daddy for 12 years wouldn’t have much memory of him, or at least wouldn’t have learned much from him to carry through the rest of her life. In this case, one would be wrong.

Daddy taught me more lessons in those few years than many are privileged to learn in a lifetime. Respect, kindness, and die-hard love was knit into me and nurtured by both parents from the moment I was born. My early years were a tumultuous mix of confusing events that tore my parents apart, but that didn’t keep them from loving me with everything they had and teaching me worlds about life.

Father’s Day is always a bittersweet day for me as I feel the weight of Daddy’s loss but at the same time celebrate the most amazing man I’ve ever known, my husband and the father of my children, Steve. There aren’t enough words and there isn’t nearly enough time to describe the depth of love I feel for this man, how he inspires me with every word and action every day, how he shows our sons how to “dad”. He is our family’s hero.

I also celebrate another man who has been pivotal in my life. I call Steve’s dad Papa, and I guess you could say he kind of became my dad when I was 15. He called me a “drowned rat” the first time he saw me, and then sometime shortly thereafter I became his “Little Girl” and have remained thus ever since.

Papa and I haven’t always seen eye to eye. In the beginning he scared the daylights out of me with his dry humor that I never knew quite how to take. I wound up crying much of the time, and I didn’t know then how much that must have bewildered him. Eventually I caught on, though, and started giving it right back to him, and that’s when our bond really began to grow.

Looking back over the father figures in my life, I have much for which to be grateful. And I am, beyond what these words can describe. Each of these amazing men has in his own way pointed me to the Father who makes all things new and loves beyond imagination.

I am truly blessed, and I’m thankful for every moment I’ve had with them, every lesson learned, every laugh and tear, every memory made. This is my focus on Father’s Day, this gratitude and not what could have been.

I can’t be anything but grateful when I smile over what is.

. . . . . . . . . .

 

A Write Where It Hurts column post

Why we must keep telling our story

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“See, healing comes through story.” Our youth pastor, the speaker for the weekend, halted his pacing back and forth across the stage to let his words sink in. “People aren’t moved until they hear the Story. So share your story!”

I thought about that for a long time after he had moved on to other points. The truth of his statement resonated with my spirit like it was born there, and I’ve pondered those things in my heart ever since. Share my story? Which one?

I could open up about childhood abuse, talk about the way I lived for years believing I had caused my father’s death, recall the times I almost died, share the words that were spoken to me that pierced my heart and set the stage for a lifelong fear of rejection. What good would that do?

But then I remember that those things aren’t the end of my story. They aren’t even the middle. They were only the beginning, and much has happened since then. Much that has changed the course of my life and set it toward much clearer skies.

Perhaps the story our youth pastor means for me to tell is what God has done with the life of a girl beset by so many obstacles at such a young age. It isn’t the hell I’ve walked through in shiny white Easter shoes that people need to hear about. It’s the healing that has come because Jesus is very much alive and God is always good.

My story isn’t over. I can tell it from the beginning, and sometimes I do. Sometimes I start in the middle and work up to the present. Wherever I start and stop, God is there. And it can be pretty hard to explain how God was there the day my childhood innocence was ripped away or when my daddy was lowered into the earth and I thought it was my fault.

It’s hard to explain because I don’t fully understand it, either. But I believe with my whole heart that God truly is good, and that He is always for me. He is the author of my story beginning to end, and only He fully knows the reasons behind what has been allowed to befall me. I can remain stuck in that little blue dress with the white lace collar, or I can trade it for something much more fitting for a girl heading for Heaven.

So I tell my story, which is really hundreds of small ones all held together by time, me walking through each one in its moment but never alone. I tell it in pieces as chances come, and always with the focus being a redemption I am hard pressed to word. Always with my eyes on the God who created me and who alone holds the right to allow what He wills.

I can’t make it all make sense, but I can tell it. And I can always, always end it with hope.

. . . . . . . . . .

 

A Write Where It Hurts column post