2019

We are a people wired to live by the rhythms of the calendar. Appointments, schedules, celebrations, and seasons mark the days of our lives. There is no greater honoring of the calendar than the New Year with its invitation to look back, look inward, and look forward.

As a child, I was confident that New Year’s Eve was magical. I believed life-changing events happened with a kiss and the stroke of midnight. It brought such hope to my aching heart. Things would be different in the New Year. Out with the old and in with the new. It’s how it was supposed to work.

And I was a little girl that needed a miracle. I waited with great expectations that when my eyes opened to the New Year, all would be well in my world. But it didn’t come. No matter how many resolutions I made or determinations that the New Year would be different – there was no magic. I couldn’t say, “good riddance”, to a year that only followed me into the next.

My child-like heart found reasons as to why this was not happening for me. “There must be something wrong with me”.  “I must not be good enough – yet.”  So I doubled down with the resolutions and swallowed the bad – determining to press through as if things were indeed different. Of course, nothing had changed, but it helped me survive.  And those resolutions and determinations didn’t last much longer than February.

When things did become different, I was more than ready to ditch the bad years as if they had never happened. My heart already tangled around a black and white/all or nothing approach to life that squeezed more tightly each year.  I would discover almost a decade later that I hadn’t really hidden the wounds of the past so well after all.  There would be no magic, but a journey that required an honest look at the past. A struggle which miraculously revealed a way forward to my healing.

New Year’s Eve 2018 found my husband and me outside sitting by the fire, glass of wine, and smoking a cigar (one of three in my lifetime which I tasted for days).  He asked our sacramental New Year’s Eve questions.  “What were the highlights and low points of the year?”  Then, “Where did you find Jesus in the midst?” And lastly, “What do you hope for in the New Year?”

For me, I now know why the “good riddance” to the old year never really worked.  A turn of a page, a kiss at midnight, or a resolution do not change my world. There will always be things from the past that will follow me into the future. If I am not intentional about looking back, understanding what the experiences have meant in my life or who they may say that I am, then there is no real way forward.

These days I long to hold life’s moments with the reverence they deserve.  To intentionally mark the seasons of my life with kindness – instead of “good riddance”.  Which ironically has increased my capacity to give and receive.  My heart is no longer tangled!

I could wish you much goodness for the New Year – and I do.  Moreso, my hope is that you and I will bring our presence and participate fully in what this New Year has to offer.  For we are a people wired to engage the pain and beauty of our lives.

PC: Bing images; hnewyea.com

 

 

 

 

Five Red Christmas Stockings

Almost every afternoon a ray of sunshine falls upon our family picture. It highlights what I care about most on this earth. I would do nearly anything for the four people sitting with me.

The gathering begins today. This Christmas season we are breaking from many of our long-held traditions. And there has been disappointment before we’ve even gathered.

I was 10 the first Christmas at my stepfather’s childhood home. It was a large gathering of his family with a living room packed with presents. I was not happy.  The reality of the transition was slowly making its way into my little girl heart.

Walking into the living room my eye landed on the biggest gift under the tree. A red and green package at least 3’X3’ nestled in the back. The only one without a name.  With childish wonder, I asked, “Who is that present for?” The reply, “It’s for you.” As all eyes fell upon me, comments rounded the room about how lucky I was to have the biggest gift under the tree.  Sure I was being teased, I dismissed that the package was mine. Yet, come Christmas morning the package was presented to me.

I was thrilled!  Why would I get the biggest gift? I had no idea what was inside but was certain it would be a 10-year old’s greatest delight. I let my heart go to full-out desire. Everyone seemed to be watching in joyful anticipation as I tore off the wrapping.

I opened the box to find it filled with tightly wadded up newspaper. In the background, I heard a snicker and a hushing. Undeterred, I continued to search – certain a wonderful surprise still lay within the inked paper. Finally at the bottom was a football. My face must have shown my hearts confusion. And laughter erupted around the room. It was not the first time of disappointment nor of my desire feeling dangerous.  But the laughter stabbed my heart that day and I began to shut down more pieces of my heart.

As I anticipate the present day family reunion, my heart is raw and achy from this past year. My heart seems to fluctuate between grief and relief.  I hear the call to fortify! To guard and distance my heart.

But I’ve also tasted much goodness this past year, and it is sweet. So, I’m trying to hold the tension of great desire and disappointment. I hope to release my heart to feel all things. Yep, even if it gets messy.

There will be disruption and harmony in our time together. And bottom line… we would do almost anything for one other. For we are family.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Tis the season of family gatherings.  Photographs full of extended family flood social media. I missed having all of my daughters here for Thanksgiving and cannot wait to have them home for Christmas!

It seems this time of year we glorify family as a place of nurture and care as if being born in a family is synonymous with healthy love.  It is simply not true for all of us.  There are those of us who grew up in abusive families that have remained abusive. Often, if you try to speak the truth about your family it is met with skepticism, criticism, and really bad advice from well-meaning relatives and friends.  Some of you know exactly what I am talking about.

People with reasonably healthy families have a difficult time understanding that your family might not be like theirs.  Other people don’t see what you see.  They may even blame you when you seek out empathy for your pain.  Which often results in feelings of shame by the attempt to face the truth about your family and overcome your history.  But you cannot experience healing and restoration from your deepest wounds unless the truth is spoken about your story of abuse.

Now I am not talking about blaming your family for everything that has gone wrong in your life. That would be untrue.  We all have a responsibility in how we respond relationally in this world.  Yet the fact remains that there are unloving abusive families out there – they might even share a pew with you on Sunday.

Some of you will be navigating this season with a “grin and bear it” status.  All the messages you have gotten whenever you tried, to tell the truth, will come flying back at your mind and heart; disloyal, shame, too sensitive, it’s your fault, you’re wrong, etc.  And you will keep the peace while emotional fissures quake right below the surface.

I don’t blame you.  Perhaps keeping the peace is the kindest thing to do for yourself right now.  It often seems taboo to speak the truth.  But a problem cannot be resolved until it is faced. This does not always equal confrontation.  However, love does not minimize the past. Nor does it seek revenge.

Our family of 5 is not perfect but we love one another well.  Even when it gets messy.  My heart is full knowing that we will be together soon.  I cannot wait to hear the stories and the laughter as we gather. And, yes, there will be tears for things that have been lost – as we have created safety for our love to grow.

So grateful for this season of celebrating the babe who came to make restoration possible.  Thank you, Jesus!

 

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Ever since I was a small child, I have tried to get people to understand the truth – to protect, to warn, to make it right, and to invite them into something new and good. My hope… that I will find a way that you will hear me and that life will arise from the shadows.  I’ve mostly been loving, kind and playful, yet persistent. Although, sadly there was a season in my teens that I spoke truth to hurt. But that’s a different story for another time.

It was a spring day in the late 60’s and I’m 7-years-old.  I’m walking downtown in Holton, Kansas with my beautiful mother.  My hands are filled with a large fountain drink from the drug store. The delight momentarily distracts me from the stares of the people.  You see, my mother, sister, and I live with my grandparents. My father abandoned us for another woman during the week of Thanksgiving.  It’s been a difficult 6 months and she’s slowly coming back to life. 

We enter French’s Hardware on the square. My mother leaves me to wander the small toy section. My freedom cut short by the owner’s big finger pointing in my direction. He’s yelling at me to get out. “Didn’t you see the sign?” I’m stunned. I had not seen the sign. I moved in the direction I’d last seen my mother – only to be stopped by his large body blocking my way and once again told to leave. “I’ll take care of your mother.” He snorts.

I left the store confused and afraid. I frantically ran back and forth jumping up to get a better look through the large store windows for my mother. When I see her, I am flooded with relief. I do not want her to get into trouble. But, she does not understand what I am saying through the windows. I gesture towards my drink shaking my head. Still no understanding. I feverishly wave for her to get out.

The owner has picked up the sign and its large base like it’s a toothpick. I know I must leave my drink outside and rescue my mother. Entering the store, I see the owner leaning on the sign having placed it directly in my mother’s path. As if in slow motion, I try to get to my mother. But fail. I watch as she turns, hits the sign full-on, says excuse me, walks around it, and continues shopping drink in hand. The owner’s brief satisfaction turns to disgust. She finally sees me. I blurt out my distress. She dismisses me and walks out of the store. I try again, but she’s busy enjoying sips of her drink as if nothing has happened.  She looks at me like I’m crazy.

This is how my mother lived her life. The truth right in front of her yet walking around it as if nothing had ever happened. Over the years I kept hoping for the right words or the right gesture to help her hear and to know she truly loved me. That never happened.  And the thing is, I said it right the first time.

Heartbreakingly, my mother left this world in September with un-resolve and a refusal to face the reality of her life and my life.  It could have been so different.  Yet, she persistently refused repair and denied abuse.  In many ways nothing changed the day she died and everything changed that day.  A hope for repair on this side of eternity lost.  Gosh… I still find my heart hoping even after her death for repair and reconciliation.  I feel a bit foolish.

Yet, death does not win! There will be a day of repair and resolve for the abuse I suffered.  A day where I don’t have to say it just the right way, make it right, or invite.  It will be made right for me on the day that God, the One who created me in my mother’s womb, invites me to sit with Him – face to face in my stories as He wipes away every tear and every pain. And if that’s not something to hope for – I don’t know what is.

Someday!!

 

Painting by Natalia Tejera 

https://fineartamerica.com/featured/mother-and-daughter-natalia-tejera.html

cleft of the rock

Good always startles me. I like that, and it scares me. Why? Big or small, my heart can barely fathom what has been offered. Even more, good touches deep desires and unearths life-giving passion.

I have much good in my life!

Yet, in the midst of pain, I often struggle to hold the good. For me, I wonder if it too will be taken. After all, it’s just a matter of time before the other shoe will drop. So, I get busy. Busy to numb the potential disappointment or pain. Because it will come. And if I can inoculate myself ahead of time, I won’t feel the brunt of the pain as intensely. I won’t die. It’s what I do.

Ah yes, I know. Enjoy the present. Hold what is good with honor.  To fully feel what each moment brings. And. I often struggle. Still.

Because I have had and still have much pain in my life.

You see, this past year painful disruption came to places that once held safety. The spiritual battle was intense. Much has been lost. Sorrow stirred, and my heart was hot within me. So, I got busy. Knowing full well what I was doing. Although, some of the changes required me to be busy. Yet, I knew I was avoiding the disappointment, anger, and grief. Afraid of the depth of my emotions. My passion.

Friends encouraged me to grieve. The words they spoke were not new. Yes, I had been angry and sad but had not plumbed the depths of my sorrow nor considered fully the losses. I resisted the desert experience – afraid of what I might find. Not wanting to be a woman called to grief.

Finally too weary of resisting, I cautiously surrendered.

And the cleft of the rock has been the safest place for me to be. Covered by God’s hand as He protected my soul – I found release. I didn’t die! Nor was I left alone. He has nourished me with truth strengthening me for the battles that will come. But for now, He has called me to the river and I am resting in His good care.

I am a woman called to grief. At least in this season; perhaps in life. But God has carved out a place just for me. Hell may rail against me, but in His hand, no evil can touch me. Things may get difficult and feel overwhelming – and yes, I will be tempted to get busy to hide from the pain – but my soul is safely nestled in His hand.

This past year has brought significant changes to my life. They have affected my mind, body, and spirit. And regardless of good or painful… I have been changed.

And that is a very good thing!

 

Couple dancing salsa at sunset

The first time that I saw him I told my sister that I would marry him. She called me a “spaz”. My heart was undeterred.  And apparently he had his eye on me too. It would be almost a year later of dancing back and forth – him dating another girl, talking together, him breaking up with girl, talking together, me dating another guy, talking together, me breaking up with guy – before we had our first date.
Dance with me, I want to be your partner…
The first date? May of 1979. My high school sponsored senior all-night-party. My friends who were dating guys from the previous graduating class told me they were inviting their boyfriends. They encouraged me to invite my crush; aka: my future husband. I laughed, knowing my very strict step-father. Good Christian girls don’t ask boys out. It was just not done. But by some shift in the heavens, I got to ask him! And he said yes.
Turns out, very few of the girls invited their boyfriends. I wondered how he would feel, but it did not seem to matter. And we had a blast being together that night; talking, eating, bowling… I’m not really sure what else was going on. But there was dancing! A good ol’ 70’s Soul Train line dance. My friends remarked how awesome we looked together dancing. I was ecstatic! I love to dance.
Can’t you see, the music is just starting? Night is falling and I am falling. Dance with me…
We fell hard and early dating for 2 1/2 years before we got married. During that time we never danced again. Oh, we danced in other ways – getting to know one another dating, in marriage, and as parents. Life got busy and the dance floor never seemed to call. Or we didn’t hear it.
It didn’t call in the bedroom either. No, that’s not true. The music and the invitation to dance have always been there – my body was just too war-torn from abuse to dance freely. I participated, enjoyed, responded but always held something back. Lies spoke of always being dirty, never being enough for this man’s love.  A war torn body desiring and afraid to fully let go of my heart and soul – and trust the man in my bed.  In full disclosure, didn’t even trust myself.  For you see, even in bodily response – I have always known there was so very much more to be given and received.
I hope that you are willing. Pick the beat up, and kick your feet up. Dance with me…
Several years ago we were invited to take ballroom dancing. I was excited and he was willing. It was disastrous. He was stressed and forgot steps. I was frustrated and took over. Even when we managed to get it right… it was not fun. For either of us. So we stopped. Although we did learn a few steps that helped us to look like we knew what we were doing at weddings.
Over the past several years we have started dancing at home. At first I was leery. I was not sure I could trust the process. Wouldn’t this just all end up badly. And honestly, it was a little disappointing and rough at first. But something magical happened. We are having so much fun! As we began just doing our own thing and forgeting about focusing on the steps being right or wrong, we have learned to be attuned to one another’s bodies.
Let it lift you off the ground. Starry eyes, and love is all around. I can take you where you want to go…
And you bet. Being more attuned to one another’s bodies has added a new sweetness to our all around intimacy. No, I am still not totally free. Maybe never fully on this earth.  That goes for both of us.  But I no longer fear and look forward to more and more freedom.  It’s about time we beat that demon down! Yes, we did it together – discovering our own dance moves as we listened to the music.
Dance with me, I want to be your partner…
Oh yes, please my love! Dance with me.
Song Credit: Dance With Me by Orleans; Songwriters: JOHANNA HALL, JOHANNA D HALL, JOHN HALL, JOHN J HALL

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There’s been a blue bird in our backyard since January 1, 2018. It arrived as we were still amidst the chaos of hurricane Harvey damage; mingled with relational hurts, death of identity, loss of fellowship, and grief.

My little harbinger of spring. Its presence has reminded me of hope and comforted my aching heart.

This spring day is Good Friday. Solemnly reflecting on Christs suffering, my own agony and suffering fades to a mere taste. Talk about grieving, accusations, chaos, and death.

Yet, I have experienced a death. It took me by surprise. And although unlike the disciples, I know there will be a Sunday resurrection. For now, I’m waiting in an upper room wondering what in the world just happened.

I’ve been tempted to shut down and bury myself in addictions.  I’m weary from the sorrow; I feel it in my bones.  My soul has cried out to God!  I’ve warred to remain present and bear the risk of hope.

And.  Hope is what makes this spring day so good.

Spring and hope seem to be intertwined in my mind, body, and soul. No, my hope did not melt away in the summer of accusations; it was not rendered fallow in autumn as the world seemed to fall all around me; nor did it perish in the deep freeze of winter grief. But there is just something about spring that is unmatched in its bounty of hope.

Truly, it’s the bounty of what Christ has offered to me. What He has offered to us all.

 

 

Heart in barbwire frames flock of birds in cloudscape background

When I hear his melodic masculine voice, I’m hooked.  Even though I know the buried monster, the echoing goodness entices my heart.  And, hope swells like wild ocean tides.  I’m five again, and my body aches for his love and attention.  My parched little heart desires for so much more from my daddy.  And my soul gulps his feeble offerings.

Sweetheart is what he names me.  Gosh, even at fifty-something I long to receive this name from him.  Yet.  He doesn’t know me.  His engagement is shallow.  He’s come and gone for decades.  So, I wonder, is this a name that appeases an old man’s lingering guilt – nothing to do with me and all about him?  It’s how it feels as he requests, even demands my presence, combined with the lack of effort on his part to reach out.  In the aftermath, I feel nauseous, stirred up, disappointed, exhausted.  I’m left empty by the presumed intimacy in contrast to reality.

He wants more contact.  And yet, offering nothing more.  How much weather can two people talk about?  A part of my heart screams danger, boundaries, protection!  I know better and understand what he is capable of doing to my heart and body.  Each and every day they bear the pain of long ago.  Walk away, from his meager confessions.  If he really loves you why doesn’t he…?

Do I settle for crumbs?  Allow him to continue the facade?  Or, do I carefully give my heart, desires, and truth –  because I have something to offer like no other to his wounded heart?  Is his life worth more agony for me?  He doesn’t owe me anything anymore.  Yet, he has everything to gain.  But, what if I lose the crumbs in the process?

Today I am not willing to hear or seek the answer.   Perhaps another day…

 

 

 

 

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In kindness he had given up his earned upgrade. I felt both gratefulness and guilt as my husband’s long legs sat back in economy. 2017 was a busy, painful, and glorious year. My aching core melted into the first class seat with a deep sigh.

The plan was to bury myself in a book or a movie. No conversations with my row mate. None. I acknowledged the man sitting next to me with a quick smile. We exchanged the socially accepted pleasantries when sitting in such close proximity. And then it was silent.

Yes!

I had no margin for shallow conversation with a stranger.

The flight took off, our lunch was served, and we ate without a word. Things were going according to plan. And I was breathing deeply.

Then it happened. It was me… I felt compelled to ask a question. The conversation that followed was fascinating, rich, and deep. There is one thing I will never forget that he said…

“You know, we are all healing. And someday we will be healed.”

It doesn’t really matter what we talked about. It doesn’t really matter if you know anything about this man or even me. What does matter is that we were two people sharing and acknowledging one another’s stories.

We hear so much about tolerance these days. I no longer believe tolerance will heal or unite any of us. It is the sitting with one another in our stories, embracing differences, and honoring another’s dignity. That is where the healing begins.

 

 

 

 

Enlight329

Instead of tossing and turning, I decided to get up. In the darkness, I could smell the dust and debris. The light revealed floors marked by countless strangers. Their fingerprints and DNA eventually sealed within the walls.

More than Hurricane Harvey – a confluence of change, disruption, and disaster has kept my body running on adrenaline since August. The chaos, trauma, and grief have been overwhelming at times. I’ve felt fragmented – unable to make decisions, foggy, and forgetful; numb – toughened up to disconnect from the reality of loss; and absorbed – at times drank a bit too much wine to reduce the intensity of the impact. I couldn’t buffet the blast much longer.

What the heck was God doing in all this chaos? Where was He? I needed rest.

“And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious.” Isaiah 11:10.

Jesus was born into chaos.

Our salvation comes from something small, tender, vulnerable, something hardly noticeable. God, who is the creator of the world comes to us in smallness, weakness, and hiddeness. — Henri Nouwen 

My eyes could only see the bigness of the messes that surrounded me. I was expecting God to hear my cry and show up in impressive ways to convince me and others of His saving power.

When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence… I will always remain tempted to despair. —Henri Nouwen

I had been crying out for rescue – but I was not looking for Him. This small child of Bethlehem, a refugee, unknown preacher, a naked man on a cross, asks for my full attention. His promises came to me not in loud claims or actions, but in the promise of small things. The hope of a bud that blossoms from a root. Something that hardly anyone notices.

And gosh, I almost missed it!

PC: Alyson Hinkie