The most important thing I did this week

 

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So far 2016 has been…bananas.  I came back from the holidays and hit the ground running – my old roommate moved out, my new roommate moved in, I started doing my new job while still doing my current one, and in between all of that tried to spend quality time with friends and family – with some sleep and exercise maybe thrown in there (emphasis on the maybe).

I’m not complaining – I’m enjoying 99% of what I’m doing – it’s just a lot – like, A LOT.  I didn’t realize how overwhelmed and stressed I’d been feeling until I woke up in a cold sweat the other night – I’d had a stress dream that I’d lost my friend’s baby.  Lost as in misplaced like you do a pair of glasses or your car keys.  In my dream my friend came to pick up her two year old and her baby and I was like “well, I can tell you where 50% of your children are!”  Turned out her baby was just chilling under her crib – totally unharmed, just tucked out of sight amid the dust bunnies with  – I’m not making this up – an old gummy worm candy stuck to her forehead from rolling around on the floor.  I find this dream both hilarious and depressing – if it were a movie I’d file it under “tragic comedy.”

This past week was no exception to the bananas theme, with some key changes – I decided skimping on sleep and exercise was making me miserable and wasn’t worth it, and did some reality checks that the world would not end if I came into work 45 minutes later because I went on a run.  I took some deep breaths and made peace with the fact that I can’t do everything right away and perfectly, and that if I drop a ball or two it won’t be the end of the world  – which is literally the phrase my boss said to me, which shows you that 1) I have a really wonderful and supportive boss and 2) I need to chill the heck out (that’s a constant work-in-progress).

I also started volunteering this week, which I’ve really been looking forward to – I’m tutoring a second-grader at a local elementary school through Reading Partners, a wonderful organization.  This week I met my student, Martin**, a shy, soft-spoken 8-year old, and we spent our first lesson doing “get to know you” activities, including tracing our hands and writing fun facts about ourselves.

After Martin colored his hand and scrawled in his fun facts, I asked him to tell me about them – his first fun fact was “my home” and he started sharing about his brother and his mom, his grandparents and uncles.  After a few sentences he would pause and ask “is it ok if I talk abut my brother now? Is it ok if I talk about my Grandpa now?”  Something about his asking permission to share broke my heart a little.  “Yes buddy,” I replied, “Of course – I want to hear all about them.”

One of the reasons I love talking with kids is how honest and unedited they are, and some of the things Martin shared with me – about his mom, brother and himself sharing one bedroom in his grandparents’ house, about how his parents are separated, about how his favorite video game is a “grown-up” one – Grand Theft Auto (don’t get me started) – were really hard to hear.  The way he kept shyly asking me for permission to talk, to share about who he is, his life and the things he loves (Star Wars, legos and his PS4 are all high on the list)  – something about it broke my heart.  We spent the entire 30 minute “lesson” with Martin telling me about his life, while I asked a few questions but mostly just let him share, feeling great about ignoring the book we were supposed to be reading – we can work on phonetics next week, but giving him time and space to talk felt much more important.

There’s no way for me to know what Martin’s home life is actually like, but based on what he told me – a single mom raising two kids, 5 adults and 2 children crowded into one home, two uncles who “yell at him all the time” – I wouldn’t be surprised if Martin doesn’t get too many chances to have an adult’s undivided attention, to be asked questions about who he is and what he loves, what he thinks and feels, and to be affirmed and encouraged to share more.  After Martin left, the Reading Partners site director told me that she’d never heard Martin open up so much, and that she was so glad he seemed to feel comfortable with me.

I drove away from that school almost in tears and I thought “That was the most important thing I did all week.”  Not the emails I sent, not the things I checked off my to-do list, not the bills I paid – sitting with Martin and creating a safe space for him to share a bit of who he is – that is the most important thing I did all week.

I can’t wait to go back next week and read more books, work on sounding out letters and most importantly learn a bit more about who this kiddo is, what his hopes and dreams are and to encourage him in those.

My dad had a paperweight on his desk that now sits on mine – it’s a rock with a quote from Mother Theresa etched on it’s surface –  “Do no great things, only small things with great love.”  I struggle on a daily basis with this feeling that I “should” be doing great things, big things to make my life count and have an impact on this world.  It’s hard for me to remember that sometimes the smallest things are really the most important, that doing those “small things” – ordinary, everyday, non-glamorous things, with great love is the apex of a life well lived.  Sitting with Martin in tiny elementary school chairs every Thursday afternoon, listening, teaching, encouraging – that is a small thing that I want to do with great love.

 

**Martin isn’t his real name

A Life Well Lived

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I went to a memorial service yesterday for a woman I’ve known since I was 14. Lyn led the bible study I was part of in high school and the on-campus club that was born out of that, and was a loving mentor, encourager and friend.  I spent many, many hours of those formative high school years in her living room, sitting on her couch surrounded by the girls – now women –  whom today I call my dearest friends.  We laughed and talked and prayed and goofed off on that couch – we shared fears and questions and stories.  Lyn shared her own stories, and was honest and loving and kind and endlessly patient with our teenage shenanigans.  Week in and week out, every Sunday at bible study, every Monday at our club planning meetings, every Friday at Faithwalk, every summer at Pinecrest, every spring break when we boarded the bus to build homes in Mexico  – she was there.  Through it all Lyn fed us – with her Chinese chicken salad and the Haagen Daz bars she kept in the freezer just for us – but even more so with her listening ear, her words of truth and encouragement, her compassion and love, and most of all with her strong, unwavering faith – a rock for all of us.

As I sat at the service yesterday listening to story after story from every age and stage of her life, the same themes emerged – Lyn loved people really, really well.  She poured out love and compassion on them, she spoke truth to them, she encouraged and championed them, she was joyful and silly and full of life – abundant life.

I listened to story after story of how Lyn’s life mattered because she loved others so well.  I watched a slideshow of photos of her life – from baby to teenager to bride, to mama-to-be in all her 80’s maternity wear glory, to proud mom of small children who became college graduates, to the last few years of her life, sick with cancer but still with a beaming smile, proudly holding her great-nephew and laughing with friends and family.

I let the words and the images wash over me, and my eyes filled with tears as I thought “This is a life well lived.”  Lyn spent the majority of her adult years as a stay at home mom, homeschooling her two kids through the elementary years and pouring love and life into her family, her friends and her community – she didn’t invent anything (as far as I know), her company didn’t go public, she didn’t earn multiple degrees or mastermind a merger.  She spent her time and energy investing in people, pouring out love and putting others before herself.

It made me think about my dad’s memorial service – my dad had some impressive items on his resume – starting companies, star high school athlete – but I think those things got about 5% of the air time at his service.  95% of what people talked about was the way my dad loved them – how he encouraged and uplifted and helped them, and the way his love left an indelible mark on their lives.

My dad and Lyn were different in many ways, but they share the same defining characteristic – they had perfected the art of loving people well, an overflow of the deep faith they shared, and that was the hallmark of both of their lives.

The world is so loud sometimes, so harsh with yelling and distractions and deception about what matters most – loud, splashy claims that a life well lived means climbing the corporate ladder, being the smartest or hottest or most successful person in the room, being popular or powerful or otherwise large and in charge.  The world shouts that the accumulation of wealth or success or degrees or power will lead to happiness and contentment and a rich, full life – a life that matters.

Sitting in the holy stillness of the church I grew up in, surrounded by stained glass windows and wreaths aglow with christmas lights, singing along to Amazing Grace and letting the words of love and light pour over me, I was pierced with the truth of what matters most – that a life well lived is a life marked by love.

I hope and pray with all of my heart, soul and strength that someday my life will be summarized by the simple statement “She loved others well” –  because that is all and everything.  That is a life well lived – the only life worth living, one bound up in sacrificial, small, messy and holy everyday love.  I am deeply humbled and forever grateful to have two such extraordinary examples pointing the way.

 

Thankful

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This weekend was Thanksgiving, which in my humble opinion is a pretty fantastic holiday.  The entire festivities center around cooking, eating, and spending quality time with friends and family – pretty much three of my favorite things in the entire world.  It’s also the official kick-off to the holiday season, which truly is the most wonderful time of the year – traditions, time with friends and family, yummy treats – the best.

Perhaps the thing I love most about holidays is that they are a built-in time to reflect – to pause in the midst of everyday, humdrum, commute-work-eat-Netflix– rinse-repeat life to think about deeper things.

Thanksgiving, of course, is a time to pause and be grateful and I’ve seen some beautiful posts floating around FB on gratitude – reminders of things I know I  take for granted – health, family, friends. When I paused to think about what I was thankful for this year, the usual suspects floated across my mind, but as I reflected on this past year I realized what I’m most grateful for is pain.

I know that sounds counter intuitive and weird and borderline unhealthy but hear me out.  As I reflect on all that’s happened this year, I flash to certain scenes – I think about being holed up in a conference room at work crying my eyes out because a dear friend suffered an unspeakable loss – and repeating the whole episode 6 months later, when another dear friend suffered the same loss.  I think about the months of waiting and worrying and no answers of a health scare – going from feeling healthy and strong and running my first half marathon to dealing with the possibility of needing heart surgery (I don’t and I’m fine – but those months of waiting and not knowing were painful and scary and hard).  I think about sitting across from a dear friend whose marriage shattered before her eyes – not because of anything she did or didn’t do, but because this world is broken and fallen and sometimes we hurt each other.  I think about talking to my uncle on the phone, hearing about my grandma being in hospice, and being sad for her and for him and also missing my dad something fierce.  I think about long talks with the people I love most, hearing their stories of fresh heartbreak, fear, disappointment, loss, shattered dreams and feeling the weight of their sorrow in my own heart. 

At one point this summer it felt like everyone I know and love was going through something heartbreaking and I declared “I just can’t handle any more pain…I’m sick of shitty things happening to the people I love.  I’m done – no more.”  It felt true at the time – it was true at the time – I had reached my quota for suffering in my own life and the lives of people I love.

Here’s the thing though – in the same moment that I felt I couldn’t handle any more pain I had a thought flash through my brain like a lightning blot, true and sure and unequivocal:  “This is the price you pay for loving people.”

I have a CS Lewis quote printed on my desk that my Dad gave to me many years ago, and it says this:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

I experience pain because I get to experience love – if I wasn’t so damn lucky to have people in my life whom I love dearly, I wouldn’t experience this much pain.  There are only so many terrible things that can happen to me personally – just statistically speaking I have one body that can get diseases, one heart that can get broken, one set of life circumstances where things can go awry  – it’s when you start adding all these other hearts and lives and hopes and dreams and relationships that belong to other people into the mix, the odds of a skipping-through-sunshine-and-daisies life go way, way down.  It’s when you enlarge the circle of love and feel other people’s pain and joy that you open yourself up to more hurt and heartbreak and loss – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To be clear, I am not thankful for the circumstances that have caused my friends and family pain – I’m angry and heartbroken and grieving with them over the losses and disappointments and heartbreak.  I wish I had a magic wand and I could undo it, smooth the way, replace it with sunshine and rainbows and so much joy.  I can’t though, so all I can do is sit with them in the dark and trust with them that a new day is coming, that the sun will shine again – and in so many of their lives it already has – new life has come, new hope and new beginnings and the whisper of better things to come.

I’m thankful for pain because it means I get to love – and having people in my life I get the privilege of hurting for and with is more than worth the price of pain.  So while I hope and pray and believe that the year ahead will be full of joy – in my life and the lives of all the people I care deeply about – I’m also not afraid of some pain, because it means that I live and that I love – and for that I give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving indeed.

 

Living Metaphors

One of my great regrets from college is never taking the class “The Bible as Literature” that my English department offered.  I realize that most other people’s college regrets involve some version of red solo cups and beer pong, but what can I say – I’ve always been a hopeless rule-follower (to wit: I recently found out that apparently I’m the only person I know who actually flosses twice a day, every day – all I know is my dentist told me that when I was 8 and so that’s what I do #straightarrow).

In any case, friends who took the course – friends of both the churchgoing and non-churchgoing persuasion – all told me they loved it, and it’s not hard for me to imagine why.  The Bible is chock full of so many beautiful metaphors and similes (#throwback to HS English class where we learned the difference between the two) it’s a beautiful read no matter your beliefs.  Maybe it’s because the entire book is about trying to make the unseen seen, about concepts that are so big and vast and beyond our comprehension –  faith, love, death, rebirth, redemption, justice, mercy, grief, joy, forgiveness – that the only way we can hope to understand them is by anchoring them with some real-life examples we can relate to.

The relational metaphors in the Bible are some of my favorites – verses that describe God as our Father, that cast the church as the bride and Jesus as the bridegroom, verses about how we are His beloved children.  There’s something so powerful in that because we get those relationships somewhere deep and visceral in our heads and our hearts – they resonate deeply.  Even if we ourselves don’t play those specific roles, we get the love between parent and child, husband and wife, brother and sister – we speak that language.

I’m not a parent, but some of my oldest and dearest friends are and seeing their love for their children – fierce, unshakable and inexhaustible (thought often exhausting courtesy of 3am wake up calls) makes me understand God’s love in a whole new way.

I’m not married, but I have had the privilege to “do life” with people who are in really good marriages – not perfect, not fairytale, not without pain and tears and hard seasons, but marriages that show me what real love looks like – what true partnership, strength and being for each other is all about.

I am a daughter, and I know that the love both of my parents poured into my life has made it much, much easier for me to believe in a loving God, to understand what unconditional love and sacrifice look like.

Sometimes I think that every experience in life, every person and promotion, every failure and success, every single opportunity and circumstance and relationship, is just a living metaphor God gives us to better and more deeply understand His love.

When Luke (my sweet honorary nephew) was about a year old, I brought him a stuffed animal from NYC as a gift.  It was this adorable, plush King Kong holding the Statue of Liberty, and I wrapped this oddly shaped bundle in layers and layers of tissue paper (one of the many great things about small children is they have zero judgment about your gift wrapping abilities) and presented it to him.

When I handed the gift over to Luke, he tore off the center strip of tissue and the gorilla’s face erupted out of the wrapping paper – Luke gave a shriek of surprise then burst into delighted laughter.  It was contagious, and all of the adults in the room burst out laughing at his reaction.

In that moment I remember thinking that all I wanted to do was empty my bank account and buy Luke every stuffed gorilla on the planet – his delight in the gift was so pure, so full of unrestrained joy, that all I wanted was to bring more of that into his life – because it would bring more joy into my life – because I love him dearly.

A verse I have loved for a long time  – and that took on special meaning for me after losing my dad – is in in Matthew 7, and it says:

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 

In that moment, watching Luke’s sweet delighted face as he received his gift I got that verse in a way I never had before.  The feeling I had watching Luke (and he’s not even my kiddo!) is about .00001% of the delight God has in watching me, in getting to witness me enjoy the good, good gifts He gives me.

I always learn best from examples, and I think God in His graciousness knows that and has filled my life with plenty of them.  When I think now about what I want most in my life – what I would wave my magic wand to get if I could – they  are really just more relationships and experiences that connect me to who God is, more living metaphors that allow me to get  – in a deep and real place – His love and grace.

In Praise of Not Reading Resumes

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**Disclaimer: I almost called this post “Stop Googling People” but if y’all literally took that advice I’d be out of a job, so this felt like a good compromise **

I’m not going to argue that resumes don’t have their place, but I’ve had a few experiences lately that have reminded me of the magic that comes when you interact with someone at face value, simply as a fellow human being and not as a list of accomplishments, accolades and alma maters.

There’s this kind, bespectacled, soft-spoken man who is a greeter at my church – his name is Bill – and every Sunday when I inevitably run into church 10 (err, maybe 20) minutes late, he gives me a huge smile and says “Good Morning Mary!”  This has happened for months and months – 10 or 15 second greetings at the church door, chit chat about the weather or the sanctuary or the sermon.  He exudes this quiet, authentic kindness – he makes me feel known, like if I didn’t show up for church he would notice, and I would be missed.  Those 15 second interactions make me feel like I belong to a community, that my presence matters, that I as a person matter – and isn’t that what we all want?  To belong – to be part of a community, a family, an “us” – to have our presence and life and whole self matter?

I was starting to feel badly that after months and months I didn’t really know much about Bill, so I started chatting with him after the service a few weeks ago, and asked him if he had any summer vacations plans.  “Well,” he replied ” I was in Amsterdam last week, so I think my summer travel is over for now.”  “Amsterdam?” I replied.  “How neat! Why were you in Amsterdam?” expecting him to say that he and his wife went there on vacation.

“Oh it was a work trip,” he responded.  “A work trip, huh? Where do you work, Bill?” “Oh, I work for Tesla.”  “Oh, sure, Tesla – I think I’ve heard of them..(insert sarcastic font here).  And what do you do for Tesla?”  “Oh, I manage financial services – well I’m the VP of financial services, and Amsterdam is our European hub so I spent a week out there with the team.  It was a nice trip, it’s really beautiful out there.”  He then proceeded to ask me what I do, and was super interested, asking me tons of questions and if I liked my work (I assure you my job is not as interesting nor as impressive as being a VP at Tesla).

My favorite part about this interaction is I had to pull this information out of him – I kept asking questions until he told me where he worked and what he did – that he’s a VP at one of the most high-profile companies in Silicon Valley.  But thats just the thing – that’s not who who is, it’s what he does – and that makes all the difference.  Who he is is a kind, thoughtful, humble person, and I’m sure he brings that same person to his high-profile company and they are better for it.

Today I met a group of folks from a small company who had a meeting with my boss.  We were waiting for our conference room to open, so we sat around making small talk until one of them commented on the “Gryffindor” sticker on my laptop (yes, I’m a total HP nerd, and proud of it! #mugglesftw).  This ignited a passionate conversation about Harry Potter.

The Millennial Guy in the group and I reminisced about standing in line at midnight when the second book came out, while a quiet, cheery 40-something guy talked about how his three sons – 14, 12 and 8 – never quite got into the series.  This somehow segued into discussions of costume parties and work karaoke, and by the time I left them I was thinking “aw, they were so nice, I would totally hang out with those people.”

When I got back to my desk I looked up the company they work for, curious what they did (note that I had not done this before I met them – I knew their first names and the company name, and that’s all the info that seemed relevant).  I started reading their bios and found out Millenial Guy (who I’m guessing is my age, if not a few years younger) has an MBA from Harvard and worked at the White House.  Sure – it’s like my co-worker who is a doula for teen and incarcerated moms in her spare time – just standard, right?  The real kicker is the Older Smiling Guy who was talking about his sons – he used to be the CFO at Facebook.

When I read that I laughed out loud –  I spent 15 minutes talking to Facebook’s former CFO about Harry Potter.  And you know what, I’m so glad that I did.

I like to think I don’t care about titles, that I’m not impressed or affected by power or money or all the things that this world uses to judge a person’s worth and value and importance – but the truth is I’m human, and it’s way too easy for me to fall into the trap of treating “important” people differently, in a way that is not good for them or for me.

Today’s experience was this breath-of-fresh-air window into what happens when we put down the flat, 2-dimensional, 12-point Times New Roman ways of seeing one another – especially in Silicon Valley – and start seeing  people as they were made to be seen: works of art made in the image of a God who is way beyond 2-dimensional, bursting in glorious technicolor, incapable of being boxed in, labeled and categorized into file folders.

I want to have more experiences like the one I had today, to see people – truly see them – for all of who they are and who they were made to be.  To experience them as people first  – people with passions and pet peeves, people with stories to tell and scars that tell stories for them (#HarryPotter), people who are messy, uneven, unruly, unstructured, Comic Sans font type people.

Those are my kind of people, because I’m that kind of person – or at least I want to be.  I don’t want to live my life in a buttoned up, black-and-white, evenly spaced kind of way – I want to hard core nerd out about Harry Potter and squeal over cute babies and laugh too loudly and drink too much coffee and run too fast and generally be a glorious technicolor version of myself.  And I want to see and delight in that richness in other people, because after all isn’t that what life is all about?  Knowing and being known, not as our corporate bios but as we truly are, messiness, imperfections and all?

If not reading resumes will get me closer to that kind of life, those kind of relationships, I say bring me the shredder!  Or close your favorite search engine…no, wait, you can still Google lots of other things!  Dinosaurs, Bundt Cakes, Canada – Google those! All super interesting, I promise!

A Different Kind of Father’s Day

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Father’s Day is kind of an emotional crapshoot every year.  Depending on where I am, who I’m with, and what else is going on in my life, it can vary on where it registers on the uncomfortable emotions scale.

The first Father’s Day after my dad died, I was living in New York and I overheard two college-age girls on the street talking about what they were going to do that weekend.  One girl was complaining that her dad was going to be in town, and he’d want to have dinner with her, and how boring that would be.  I felt a white hot flood of anger wash over my body, and I wanted to scream and sob all at one – it took all of my self control not to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, to say to her “You have a dad who loves you and wants to spend time with you and is ALIVE – he’s here.  How dare you take that for granted.”

It felt like a personal affront, when of course she didn’t even know me.  Grief is like that, especially in the beginning – every dad holding his little girl’s hand on the street, every Facebook post w/ an ode to dads, every father-daughter dance at a wedding –  it all seems personal, pointed, cruel – like a knife jabbing your heart and getting twisted deep.

And I’d be lying if I said the pain had gone away, that this year, seven years after losing my Dad, the sting of missing him is any less acute.  It’s different, but it still hurts.  Thinking about how different my life is now  – how different I am as a person – than when he was alive, I am so sad that he’s not here to walk through life with me: to cheer on my successes, to talk through life decisions, to threaten to break the legs any man who doesn’t treat me well (or  – let’s be real – the legs of any man who talks to me, ever).

The lead-up to Father’s Day this year was hard – I felt sad and lonely and adrift.  I drafted a long missive of reasons I missed my Dad, and sobbed through the entire writing process (quick plug for writing – sometimes just as effective as therapy, and cheaper!).

But something extraordinary happened today, on Father’s Day itself.  I woke up early and sat sipping my fave Peet’s coffee (bc I thought on today of all days I needed to treat myself to the good stuff, to honor the man who made certain coffee would run in my veins – literally and figuratively).

I sat there and sipped and looked out the window in to the early-morning light and I thought about my Dad.  I thought about the great big, strong,  teddy-bear of a human being he was, alive with joy and laughter and contagious enthusiasm, with hugs for everyone and genuine interest and joy in people’s lives – even totally strangers.  I thought about his passion for justice, his deep love for Jesus, his delight in loving people well.  I thought about his love of wise words and of learning, his deep respect for great thinkers and do-ers like Mother Theresa, Philip Yancey, NT Wright.

And what I felt as I sat there wasn’t grief or sadness or bitterness – what I felt was deep, deep gratitude.  I felt grateful for the life he lived, for the incredible dad he was to me, for the love he poured into my life.  And I felt grateful for the gift of life I had, a gift that was so much due to him: a day before me to live and move and breathe, a day to enjoy the sunshine and spend time with one of my “sisters from another mister” (aka one of my oldest and dearest friends).  A day to simply live.

I always try to plan something special for Father’s Day, something to look forward to – dinner with friends, lunch in the park – a way to redeem a hard day with the balms of friendship and sunshine.  Today I ran my first 10k, and when I started to get tired and thought “this is hard, I can’t do this” that same emotion came flooding back again – gratitude.  I looked up at the clear blue sky, let the sun kiss my face and got choked up as I thought “Thank You.  Thank you Lord that my legs can move, that my lungs can fill with air, that when my brain tells my feet to move forward they move, that I am healthy and strong and alive – fully alive.”

At church tonight we joined the thousands of congregations all over the country praying for South Carolina, for healing for the victims’ families, grace and redemption for the perpetrator, healing and reconciliation for our country.  Our pastor talked about how moved and challenged he’s been by the reactions of the victims’ families – men and women who have responded with such stunning forgiveness and grace towards the man who took their loved ones from them, it takes my breath away.

It made me think about how something profound happens in the midst of grief and sorrow that just can’t happen in joy – there is a tenderness, a meaning, a depth of love and care for one another that it beautiful.  It hits a deeper, truer, purer register than anything can in the midst of the light, euphoric moments of joy.

Today I received so many words of love and encouragement and prayer from friends who know and love me, and know that today is a hard day.  Their words of love, their willingness to stand with me in the space of grief, mean more to me than any birthday wishes or congratulatory cards I’ve ever received.  There is a love there, a willingness to mourn with those who mourn that fills my eyes with tears and my heart with gratitude.

I know the best way I can honor my dad’s memory is to fully live my life – to run as fast as my legs can propel me forward, to savor every sip of rich coffee and Hobee’s blueberry coffee cake, to laugh with abandon at baby giggles, to sob with my whole heart when missing my Dad overwhelms me, because there are so many wonderful things that are worth missing.

Today my head and my heart are full of so many things, but the greatest of those is Love – and for that I am so profoundly grateful.

I love you, Daddy.  Happy Father’s Day.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. – 1 John 4:12

What I learned riding a roller coaster 7 times in a row

 

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I spent a lovely  – and surreal – two days at Disneyland this week, and at one point found myself in line for the California Screamin’ roller coaster in California Adventure.

It’s been a few years since I’ve ridden a roller coaster, but I remembered that I enjoyed them – conceptually – and was caught up in the festive mood around me, so didn’t think much about what I was getting myself into.

Once I was strapped in my seat and we took off, I had my first glimmer of doubt – “Hmm, this is faster than I remember.”  As we dipped down the first incline, my stomach lurched and I felt a wave of fear wash over me – I may have let slip a few very un-Disney like words in my panic.

Climbing the first hill slowly, knowing that what comes up must come down, I gripped my handlebars tightly and felt total panic and fear overtake me – all I could think was “I don’t like this, I don’t like this…”  I wanted out, like pronto, but that wasn’t an option so I tried to take deep breaths and convince myself it was going to be ok.  I literally spoke the words out loud in an attempt to reassure myself – “You’re ok, you’re ok.”  Thankfully the ride was loud enough to mask the fact that I was talking to myself and being totally uncool in my panic.

The fear continued through the hills that followed, and as we approached the loop in the center of the roller coaster – which I had totally forgotten about – all I could think was “Nope, no, no sir, this is not what I signed up for.”  Insert a few more not-safe-for-innocent-children’s-ears mutterings here.

I squeezed my eyes shut as our car turned upside down, and when I opened them we were right-side-up, and – spoiler alert – I was alive, still safely strapped in my seat, and with all my appendages intact.  It was at that point that a lightbulb went off and I thought “Oh, I’m actually ok.  The worst is over and I’m fine.”  

When the ride came to a halt I had one, strong, unequivocal thought: “I want to do that again.”  

Now that I knew what to expect, now that I had (unwillingly and unwittingly) faced my fears, I wanted to have that same experience all over again and actually enjoy it.  The first time around my fear was so pervasive it robbed me of any chance of enjoyment – the spectacular view from the crest of the hill, the pure joy and exhilaration of the free falls, the laughter and delighted shrieks around me – all were lost on me.  I didn’t want to miss all of that again.

I rode that roller coaster six more times, and each time the fear to fun ratio shifted in fun’s favor.  It was a 95/5 split the first time, and by my final ride it was 5/95 – so much so that I was getting a little bored. “Seriously, you call that a drop?? Can’t we go a little faster? Throw in another loop? Bring it on!!”

By the end of the night I was high on adrenaline and so, so thankful that I’d had the opportunity to have a “do-over,” that I didn’t miss out on such a fun and joyful and exuberant experience that I go to share with the people around me.

It made me think about the fears I have that are much more rational, and much more terrifying than any roller coaster: the fear of failing, of being rejected, of wasting the precious gift of life I’ve been given, of losing the people I love.  These are real fears, and unlike the statistical improbability of something going wrong on a roller coaster, I know these fears can happen because I’ve seen and experienced them, because I’ve walked through the heartbreak and pain that comes with them with so many people I love.

One of my favorite verses, lovely and powerful in it’s brevity (I appreciate when other writers are succinct bc I am so not) is this:

“Perfect love drives out all fear.”   – 1 John 4:18

Fear and love can’t co-exist – they are oil and water, flame and flood – one must overtake the other.  I know this is true because I’ve experienced it in my own life time and time again – fear shrinks my heart to place of small selfishness with no room to care for those around me, while love expands my heart to encompass all the best and most glorious things in life – joy, gratitude, compassion, care, empathy.

Fear is a crappy trade-off for joy, and as I rode that roller coaster over and over again, the cool night breeze ruffling my hair and the lights of the park sparkling over the water below, I made a decision.  I decided fear can shove it – I’m done.  Not done feeling fear or acknowledging it exists, because there’s plenty to be afraid of in this broken world of ours, but I’m done letting fear win.  I’m done letting fear take me out of the game.

The next time I find myself afraid  – or failure or rejection, of being hurt, of losing what’s most precious to me –  I’m going to take some deep breaths, say a prayer, and ride the damn roller coaster.  I’m going to say what I think, ask the hard questions, give my honest option, take the risk and the road less traveled, tell people I love how much they mean to me, stand up for what’s right, love outrageously with my whole heart because life is too short and too precious not to.

2015 so far has been full – full of joy in the form of new beginnings marked by  weddings and precious babies, and also full of pain in the form of unspeakably tragic loss, broken relationships, heartbreak and sorrow.

As I look ahead to the fullness that the second half of 2015 holds – watching dear friends move away, taking on new challenges, the mixed emotions of turning 30 and marking the year my dad would have been 70, and all the things I can’t yet predict will happen, I want to face it all with a spirit of love that drives out fear.

So thanks, Mickey, for the life lessons,  Also, for the churros – so many churros.

 

 

Hope

Today is Easter Sunday.

Easter means a lot of things – it is the center of the Christian faith, the most important day in the church calendar, an opportunity to be reminded anew of how disgusting marshmallow Peeps are (but they are so dang cute we keep buying them anyways).

To me Easter means one thing – Hope.  Hope for the brokenhearted, hope for those who suffer and cry out in pain, hope for the restless and discontented, hope for the angry and the bitter.  Hope, in short, for all of us – rich and poor, oppressed and oppressor, the 1% and the 99%.

Whether we wake up on Easter Sunday filled with joy or sorrow, contentment or deep suffering, surrounded by family or starkly alone – there is Hope.  There is always Hope.

This is not a wishy-washy, wishful thinking, bunnies and unicorns and rainbows Hope – this is a strong, mighty, conquered-death Hope.  This is a Hope that stood in the arena facing betrayal, injustice, torture, abandonment, suffering and death and defeated them all.  This is a Hope that went to toe-to-toe with death and won.

Death is not the end of the story – it’s not the end of Jesus’ story, and because of that it’s not the end of our story.

Easter can be summed up in this beautiful statement   – to borrow lyrics from a song I love – “death is a lie.”  Death – of the people we love, of the dreams we hold dear, of deeply cherished hopes for our family, ourselves and the future – is not the end of the story.  We are indeed “Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” “In this world you will have trouble but take heart I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

To me, Easter means this: God kicked Death’s ass – and for that I am deeply grateful.

Happy Easter, indeed.  As my fellow Greeks would say, Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!

He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed.

Santorini Sunset

 

 

Happily Ever After

I’m a sucker for “Happily Ever After.”  The notion that all that was once wrong has been made right, that the good are rewarded and the bad are punished (but then the bad repent and become good, too, of course because we wouldn’t want anyone left out of this fairy tale) and the princess finds her prince, her dream job and the perfect flattering haircut and rides off into the sunset.  Ahh, bliss.

Real life, of course, has an irritating tendency to go off script.  The bad get promoted, the good get dumped, and the perfect haircut proves more and more illusory with each salon.  Heartbreak happens, and disappointment and loss and piercing pain – dreams go unfulfilled and children get sick and people are enslaved and the world seems, sometimes, like a cruel and twisted mockery of a fairy tale, no happily ever after in sight.

Except.

Except there are moments –  small, fleeting beautiful moments – where Hope pierces through, where light conquers darkness.  I’m learning more and more these days that God isn’t found in the grand, dramatic events of life (though He’s there too) nearly as often as He is in the small, quiet, seemingly everyday moments.  Eating blueberry pancakes with a tousle-haired two year old,  joining my voice in a chorus with hundreds of others others singing “Amazing Grace,” feeling the warmth on my face as I run through spring air, heavy with the smell of jasmine and sunshine.

Those are holy moments, and they happen independent of the capital letter moments of my life. Job. Marriage. House. Kids. The Future.  All important, surely, but none defining the importance of my life or the beauty of the every day.

I’m learning, slowly but surely, that there is no finish line, no defining moment, no “happily ever after” after which your life can start and you find that happiness you’ve been searching for.  The Happily Ever After, I’m learning, finds you – it finds you at the wedding and at the funeral, at the baptism and the burial, at the highest peak and the lowest depth.  It finds you in the bright shiny moments and the dark stinging ones.

Happily Ever After isn’t a destination to arrive at, it’s a way of life to be embraced – a choice to find the beauty and the good and the redemptive right here, right now – regardless of job or relationship or financial status, regardless of whether your deepest held dreams have come true or lie shattered at your feet, so much broken glass, cutting deep with every step.

So, tomorrow I doubt I’ll land my dream job or meet Prince Charming or find that elusive perfect haircut (though a girl can still hope).  What I will do – imperfectly, haltingly, slowly – is let Happily Every After find me – in words of love and grace and patience, in a kind smile and shared laugh, in the giggles of two irrepressible three year olds. I’ll open my eyes and my hands and let love find me, just where I am.

 

Flying

My dear friend Chrissy posted the most stunning photograph on Facebook the other day.

It’s a picture of her husband Robbie tossing their 19 month old son Luke into the air.  The photographer captured the image at this impossibly perfect, to-the-milisecond, blink-and-you’d-miss-it moment.  Luke is at the height of the toss, his little body straight as an arrow, arms outstretched, a look of pure joy and delight on his sweet face, grinning from ear to ear.He is flying and he is loving it.

I saw that picture, bleary-eyed and half-awake before my morning coffee, and I felt myself get hit square in the chest with the power of it all.  It literally took my breath away.  That photo had one word written all over it, as clear as if it was captioned.  That word was Trust.

God has been giving me PhD level courses in Trust lately.  On some days, in some rare and beautiful moments, trusting God feels so simple, as natural and as effortless as breathing.  Most of the time, though, it’s a struggle.  I have to fight to remember that my hope is not found in my own abilities or circumstances, in striving and doing everything “right.”  I have to fight to remember that I am not the Author of my own story, and to stop trying to wrestle the pen out of God’s hand (Spoiler Alert: I always lose.  God has much stronger forearms than I do).

I looked at that picture and I started to think about why Luke can fly so effortlessly and so freely, with such joyful abandon, without a single ounce of fear that he will fall.  I think it comes down to the fact that he believes two things about his dad, about that guy who tossed him in the air in the first place and is waiting on the ground below: that he is able to catch him and that he wants to.

One belief without the other is useless – if Robbie wanted to catch Luke but he lacked the strength or hand-eye coordination or whatever, the scene 2 seconds after that picture was taken would be Luke on the ground, crying, hurt and scared.  In the same way, if Robbie was capable of catching Luke but he didn’t want to – if he got distracted or disinterested or decided something else was more important to him in that moment than his kid, Luke would be in serious trouble.

Thank God (pun intended) that’s not the case.  Robbie is more than able to catch Luke (he’s got about 5 feet and 150 pounds on him – for now at least) and to say he wants to catch him is the understatement of the year.  Robbie would fend off a horde of flesh-eating zombies while juggling chainsaws and singing “It’s a small world after all” on an eternal loop if it meant protecting Luke from harm.  Luke knows that – he believes that – because every.single.day of his 19 months on this earth he has experienced that this is his dad’s heart toward him.  He trusts that his dad will always love and protect him, that he is for him.

In the moments when trusting God is a struggle, when I feel myself flailing in the air, overcome by fear and anxiety about the future and the unknown of it all, when I start to worry about what will happen if and when I start to fall, I ask myself two questions: is God capable of catching me and does He want to?

Tucked away in Jeremiah 32, in the midst of a prayer magnifying God’s great power and glory, is a phrase that says, simply, “Nothing is too hard for You.”  The first time I read it I laughed out loud, and every time I stumble across it in my Bible I smile ruefully and shake my head at my own thick-headedness.

Nothing is too hard for God. 

He set the stars in the sky.  He created the wind and the rain, thunder and lightning, the sun and the moon and every single shining star in the Heavens.  He created a newborn baby’s tiny, perfectly pink feet, the infectious laughter of children and every delicate petal of a cherry blossom tree in full bloom.  He made the lame man walk and the blind man see.  He raised Jesus from the dead.  So…I think He can handle finding me a job, making sure I get married before I’m 82, and taking care of the people I love. Nothing is too hard for Him.

As far as believing that God loves me, that’s a whole separate post, but suffice it to say that over the last year I have gone from believing that God loves me enough to get run over by a bicycle (maybe a moped, on a good day) to really, truly understanding that He would gladly get mowed down by a bus, a hundred times over, to protect me.  And of course He literally did just that – took on all of my pain and sorrow and sin and shame and sacrificed himself to save me, because He loves me too much to let me fall.

I think when Jesus said we should be like little children, He was really onto something.  When I look at Luke’s face in that picture I think, “Wow.  Look what happens when you Trust your Father.  You get to experience joy and exhilaration and peace and contentment all at the same time.  You get to fly.”

I want to be like Luke.  I want to trust my Father so wholeheartedly, so deeply, and with such abandon that I look straight ahead to what God has for me and move towards it with joy, with arms outstretched, with a heart that says (to borrow a phrase from Luke) “More, please!” I want to fly.

Thanks for the lesson, Lukers.  See you up in the air.