Rest

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It’s starting to sink in how much of my life is spent striving.

Striving to stay healthy, not offend anyone, be everything to everybody possible, be available, be open, be real, be safe, be me. I’m not sure I remember what it feels like to truly rest.

I’ve been sticking close to home a lot more lately–not hiding in a shell, but curled up in a chrysalis. Wait. Maybe chrysalis isn’t a good analogy, since that implies I will eventually open up into something new. I’m not sure I’m supposed to be–or that I want to be–something new. I want to be something real. I want to be who I already am.

For me, resting doesn’t mean shutting out the world. It means paying attention to what heals me, calms me, makes me feel fully alive in this life God created for me. This grateful, beautiful life.

I’m working on another book, and while I find myself scrambling for motivation to really get words flowing I find the process as a whole getting easier. I think it took getting that first book out there for me to believe I actually have something to say that someone else might want to read. I can be a little slow to believe in myself.

And so while I am resting, I am also working hard here in my little office overlooking the yard and palm trees and dock and lake with sandhill cranes loping and cardinals flitting and the wind chimes singing me a breezy Florida winter song. Writing is calming for me, and this is the perfect place for it.

I spend a lot of time alone, but I am never lonely. I’ve grown deeply introspective lately, but it has me examining some things that merit close attention. I find it drawing me closer to God in ways I couldn’t have imagined. With the Holy Spirit as my ever-present companion I could never be truly alone.

These are days of grief and fear, but also of gratitude and joy. I struggle to word how those things can all be present at once, but as I move the days and years of my life I am realizing more and more just how complex the living of this life can be–and how difficult to word.

But I go on trying to word it, this story of mine that only I can tell. I keep showing up, hoping somehow it will be used to give someone hope.

If I have nothing else to offer, there’s always hope.

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Him coming Home

Rest in peace, sweet Joey
3/9/10 – 1/24/14
Photo: Ali Flower Shryock

I must have felt it in the early hours
A tiny quake when startled awake whispering his name to Heaven
Mumbled soft in slumber but the heavens knew
It was him coming Home

There must be a sound, a shake, a sensing
When the fragile soul of a three-year-old
Breaks through time and space
To see God’s face

It’s emptier here in our numbness and tears
We fall trying to make sense of it all
We pray and we grieve
And yet still we believe

In our struggle to cope we are not without hope
Another treasure’s been laid sweetly up
A beautiful boy with blue eyes bright
To light our way to Heaven

To write that real

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I skim 90% of what comes through my inbox. I admit with crimson cheeks (not exactly, but I like the imagery) that I rarely read through the entirety of every WordPress newsletter. There–I’ve said it and now I can sleep. Well, I can after I put the rock back over the crook in the gutter so the rain stops pounding on it at freakish decibel levels.

Anyway, today I was skimming and for some bizarre reason the word “Bloggess” struck my fancy. I’m like that with words sometimes–you know, words like flummox and pulchritude and brouhaha–I just can’t pass them up without seeing where they take me.

So I clicked on today’s WP newsletter linking their blog post welcoming The Bloggess. As I read through the various sections of the post, one thing stood out above everything else: this gal writes the real. Anybody who has read me for more than ten minutes knows that my saying “she writes the real” is like placing a Queen of All the Things sash across her midsection. I have a ten-mile-long list of blogs I follow so it’s the rare blog any more on which I click that “follow” button, but I’ll be following this one.

Something she said grabbed me by the ear.
“I don’t think there’s such a thing as an unimportant story, but some are told better than others.”

I’ll be chewing on that today and likely well beyond. Thanks for the prompt, Miz Jenny. I like you already.

P.S. Upon further review of her blog, I thought I’d mention that her language does get a bit colorful in spots. But feel free to head over if you’re feelin’ froggy. Clearly we each have our own unique way of expressing our real.

Lost

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Not all who wander are lost. Not all who wonder are lost. Do all who are lost wonder?

I feel lost lately. Not sure where I fit. If I fit. Sometimes even wondering when or if my time will come, or if that time has come and gone. And if it is to come again, where will I be? Is there a time in life when we are freed to use our giftings, and then once that time is over…are we obsolete? I wonder sometimes if I am just plain washed up.

I know what I’m good at. I don’t talk about it a lot because I don’t want to be “that person”. But I know, deep down, what I am wired to do. I know what jazzes me. I know what I’ve done wildly well in the past. I know how God has used the unique (maybe even a little bit crazy) way He knit me together to reach out and shed light into other lives.

I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend. I am a homemaker, writer, speaker, editor, creator, maker, artist, singer, musician, composer, mentor, teacher, nurturer, connector, encourager. I keep hearing that those things are of value. Are they?

I’m just not sure what to do with those things right now. If I lament that I wish I could do more, be used more in what I can do, I fear being written off as a complainer. If I stay silent, I hurt alone. Either way, as resilient as I try to remain, this hurts.

In the absence of being needed so much outwardly, I am drawn toward home. This is not unusual for me, homebody that I am. I am happiest here. I feel drawn inward, deeply introspective and almost private. At least for now. But I don’t believe it is meant to turn my thoughts inward toward myself. I believe it is to turn my thoughts more intently on Him and the message–messages–He wants me to get out in books.

In short, I am feeling called to a season of words. Specifically, words sprawled into books. What He does with them is up to Him. Showing up to the page is up to me.

And so I lose myself to find the messages. Wherever they are.

I wander and I wonder and I am lost but not lonely. These are days to find my rest in Him.

When I fall

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Thanks for catching me when I fall
Sometimes the empty of it all caves in
Like waves rushing over pushing memory
Where too many moments crush at once
I run and the tears come and I miss her so
And you reach out and steady me again
I did that for her

Thanks for loving me through it all
When the sadness steals truth from my knowing
And I don’t hear your heart at first
Know that I always feel it, look past the surface
And see you reaching out to grab my hand
Knowing you love me like I love her
And you

When your voice seems pale in comparison

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They are ever so lovely, those voices crooning from behind microphones, bellowing from bodies wrapped in spandex and sequins and sometimes very little at all. Their words are music and their presence seems to grip the hearts of hearers with an ease that makes you cringe when you think of how small your voice sounds in your own ears, how unappealing your message feels even deep within your own heart.

I’ve felt that way, too.

I’ve watched them dance and sing and speak and win fans in a five-minute performance when most days for me it feels like climbing a mile-high mountain getting one blog post written or sharing my own story or facing a tiny crowd to sing a borrowed song.

Sometimes I feel like an imposter. I can’t command an audience like that, so what’s the point?

Then there are days like yesterday when a woman I hadn’t seen in months walks up to me and places her hand on my shoulder and says, “I read your blog. I follow your life through your words, and I want you to know that I read your story and it’s like I know you, feel your heart, understand your story. When you write, I can see who you really are and it makes me want to share who I am, too.”

And suddenly there’s a ray of hope that breaks through the cloud of comparison.

Because really, I wouldn’t want to dress like those performers or dance the way they do. That isn’t me. That may be their stories, but it isn’t mine. And maybe it isn’t their story at all—maybe in reality it is a façade to cover what they’d rather the watching world not see.

I don’t want a façade. I want the world to see the real me.

And maybe that is what this whole thing is really about: me realizing that I don’t need to worry about how fancy or strikingly-clad or brightly lit my story is. Because it is simply mine.

And how amazing is it that I have the opportunity every single day to put myself out there, to show the real me without glitz or fanfare, to open myself up to everyday people who couldn’t relate to those Hollywood stars if they tried and who need a much more real and believable hand to hold on this journey.

I’m no prize-winning blue rose, but a tiny wildflower can bloom beautiful in a field of dry weeds.

Maybe the fact that I’m no celebrity makes me much more valuable to the millions out there who are anything but famous. People just like me. Maybe this little star doesn’t have to be blindingly brilliant to twinkle a smile in a hurting heart.

Perhaps in the end, it is the ordinary story that becomes extraordinary in its telling.

I’m willing to shine. Are you?

~  *  ~

 

 

A Write Where It Hurts column post

This fire

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I met him at the front door. He’d walked home from the bus stop and I knew he was home because I could hear him dragging the trash bin around to the side of the house. I opened the door and his smile met mine and we kissed while he closed the door behind us. One thing led to other things I can’t detail in a blog post, and we’ve blushed at each other like middle-schoolers all evening.

I’ve been asked more times than I could begin to count what keeps our passion alive through the years. I usually stick with the safe to discuss, like valuing the other above self, an ongoing sense of humor, and spending a lot of time together. It’s hard to blog about fiery passion in a marriage, at least in a family-friendly manner, but believe me when I tell you it’s a very important part of what keeps our hearts beating as one.

One way we never lose this fire is by never forgetting what love felt like in those early days. When I look at him, my heart and mind see him all the way back to the gangly boy with the afro at the stop light. I see us together way back then and then years later through changes in size and shape as our bodies morphed with age. Time can’t steal the love that has wrapped us tightly in each other’s hearts for more than three decades. It never will.

I think of him constantly. I don’t mind admitting that I start missing him the moment he leaves before the sun is up, so by the time he gets home I’m pretty close to delirious with delight. No wonder I’m grinning like a fool when he walks through the door. The fun part is that he’s doing the same, all day long. We text each other and call when we can, never losing touch for long as our day unfolds. We are always together in one way or another.

These days of getting to spend a lot of time alone are ones we cherish. We’re in no hurry to rush the next phase, but we know when the last of our young leaves the nest it still won’t be empty. It will never be empty. There will always be us, this pink-cheeked girl and her gangly boy crazy in love and kissing at the front door.

Unexpected Blessings

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Our power went out this morning. Here on the west central Florida coast we have our fair share of haters because our weather is so warm for most of the year, including times like this when our friends are in -60 and -80. I’m telling you what–I would just plain die.

Anyway, back to this morning. It froze here last night, and in this humidity that’s mighty uncomfortable. Thanks to great insulation and the fact that just a few days ago it was in the 80’s here, I hadn’t needed to run the heater till this morning when I got up and thought I’d turn it on just for a bit to take the chill off the house. I’m glad I did, since the power went out about two hours later.

When the house began to cool down again, I wrapped up in my favorite blanket and tucked myself into a cozy chair in the living room near the window so I could see how to write. I grabbed a journal and a couple of pens and settled in to wait out the return of an electric current. When it all buzzed back to life two hours later, I looked up and grinned, turned on my favorite soundscapes soft music channel, made myself a cup of hot chocolate and sipped it while I continued writing, and then dozed off to sleep.

It’s moments like those, that kind of peace and calm and beauty in the midst of something not so enamoring that reminds me of what a beautiful life I live.

I don’t take it for granted. Not for a moment.

The lesson in a lie

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A lie is an ugly thing. The one I told Mary Jamison in eighth grade wasn’t supposed to be an ugly thing, but in the end it certainly turned out to be.

Mary was one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. She was taller than me (which wasn’t saying much, as she was appreciably taller than most of her friends) with long blondish-brown hair and a creamy white complexion not uncommon among my other small-town Minnesota classmates. She thought she was homely. I thought she was beautiful.

I had moved from Florida to Minnesota in the middle of the school year, a move that snatched me from my friends and made me hate the step-dad who dragged us away. I was a blonde, blue-eyed, deep-tanned skater with a thick Southern accent. In other words, I stuck out like a sore thumb. All things considered, it came as a pleasant surprise when I went from being an ordinary nobody in big-town Tampa, Florida to quite a somebody in tiny Wykoff, Minnesota.

Everybody wanted to be my friend, and all the guys wanted me to go out with them. By “go out” I mean “be boyfriend and girlfriend” since I was all of 13. Looking back it’s crazy to think I was allowed to have a boyfriend that young, but I digress. It became a common occurrence for school-mates to randomly walk up to me and ask me to “say something–anything!” just so they could hear the twang. At first it was fun. Before long it had gone way past annoying.

Suddenly (and miraculously) the most popular girl in school, I got love notes in my locker nearly every day. My friends teased me about it, giggling and begging to read every word. But Mary looked sad. Fun I could handle, but the look on her face as I stood at my locker reading yet another secret admirer letter was more than I could handle. I wanted to do something to make her happy. I wanted to make her smile. So I decided to lie.

I didn’t see it as a lie, of course. I saw it as an intervention with the most loving of intentions. I wrote a letter to Mary from an imaginary Secret Admirer, telling how “he” thought she was beautiful and smart and amazing, and slipped it into her locker. My efforts gained the exact result I’d hoped for: Mary dashed into the next class grinning from one flushed cheek to the other. Her eyes danced as she read us the letter, and we all rejoiced with her. She refolded the note and sighed deeply, then said, “Do you think he will write me again?”

Suddenly this was a little more complicated than I had considered. Of course she would be disappointed if he didn’t write again. It had never occurred to me that this would have to continue somehow, and that at some point it would have to end. And then we’d be right back where we started: Mary’s sad eyes.

After writing a few more notes and sneaking them into her locker and hearing her excitedly read them at lunch, I realized I was in over my head. The thought of letting her down broke my heart. Telling her the truth was out of the question, since she would understandably hate me forever. So I confided in a mutual friend and asked her what I should do. Unfortunately the mutual friend was so shocked by my confession she took it straight to Mary.

I won’t ever forget Mary’s confrontation, her face contorted around the angry “How could you?” and her eyes brimming with tears. Caught unaware, I could do nothing but stand there in shock. No words came at first, and then I tried to explain that I was only trying to do something nice for her but she held up her hand stop-sign fashion and walked away.

News spreads fast in a small-town school. I was no longer Most Wanted As a Friend. In fact, nobody was really speaking to me at all. Few times in my life have I felt so alone.

About a week later I found myself walking down an quiet hallway during lunch hour. I didn’t bother going to the cafeteria any more, dreading the stares and looks of disappointment and disgust. I had come to their school and hurt one of their own. I was the unforgivable.

At the end of the hallway I backed against a row of lockers and slid to the floor. Drawing my knees in close, I let my head fall forward and wept. Hard. I’m not sure how long I’d been sitting there when I heard a noise. Startled, I raised my face to find Mary standing above me. I couldn’t meet her gaze. She backed up and slid down the lockers across the hall, assuming my same position opposite where I sat. I wiped my face with my sleeve and forced myself to look up.

Her face was sad but not angry. Her words were quiet and pierced me through. “It really hurt what you did.”

“I know,” I managed to choke out. “I swear I never meant to hurt you. But I see now how stupid I was.”

“I know why you did it. I’m hurt that you lied to me, but I can’t be mad at you for why you did it.” She managed a half-smile.

“Can you forgive me?” My words faded to a choke at the end. She nodded, then came over and hugged me tight. Grace and forgiveness washed over me like a miraculous healing right there by locker 54.

In that moment I vowed to never do anything like that again, and to always think things through before acting. I had learned the hard lesson that good intentions don’t excuse bad actions. I had learned that a lie never repairs but only digs a deeper hole, and that only truth and honesty and love can fill those empty places.

Mostly I learned that grace is one of the greatest gifts a heart will ever hold.

Old Yeller

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I never wanted to be a yelling mom. I wanted to be kind and loving and gentle and never raise my voice at my children. Enter our firstborn who, as my mother always used to say, “would argue with a sign and take the wrong road home”. That boy gave me a run for my money, especially in those early days of this very young mama. By the time he was around four I had become what I never wanted to be: a yeller.

I remember one evening around that time standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes and Jeff doing or saying something I didn’t like, and as I opened my mouth to yell at him something stopped me. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I know the thought that followed the interruption was, I don’t like yelling. That isn’t who I want to be. And that isn’t who I’m going to be any more.

I don’t remember what I ended up saying to him, but I do remember it was something instructive and calm. I also remember the look of surprise on his face and the hint of a smile that followed as he darted off to build something or maybe to read yet another book.

Unless I’m just remembering badly, I’m pretty sure I have never screamed at my children in anger or annoyance since that day some 28 years ago. I’ve spoken sternly on occasion, but I’ve made it a point not to yell. I’ve heard, read, and seen for myself that yelling puts up walls, shuts down hearts, severs relationship. I’ve tried hard to build up, not tear down my children. I’m a far from perfect mama, but I’m glad to be a fairly calm one.

I’m blessed to know that God doesn’t leave us in our old ways, but whispers to our hearts when changes need to be made. It’s up to us to hear and obey. He spoke that night at the kitchen sink, and I bade Old Yeller goodbye.

I don’t miss her one bit.