Author Archives: Julie

Mystery Solved

Mom, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I got the hanging basket for my girlfriend.

My son’s words rang through my ears along with the thought, I just blogged about them! Mortification followed close behind with shame bringing up the rear.

Laughter erupted from one who jumped from the table and dashed to the computer furiously typing in the search engine bar.

Mom just blogged about those flowers!

No, Please! Don’t look it up. I just need to delete the post. I knew I shouldn’t have written about them! Don’t read what I wrote. Please. I’m serious. I am so embarrassed!!!!!! Don’t look it up!

Sometimes I can laugh at myself, but this wasn’t one of those times. I was in a panic. The nineteen-year-old inside of me felt exposed and out-of-control, two things not tolerated in her. I ran to the kitchen set and began to sob. That wasn’t the best place, so I regrouped and returned to the scene of the crime, the dining room. That wasn’t good, either. Tears erupted as I dashed to my bedroom and grabbed my journal and markers.

It all made perfect sense. A missing piece, hunch, whatever you want to call it clicked into place.

The playful color of the pot and flowers. I knew that orange was girlfriend’s favorite color. Of course they were for her! I am not the only one in this house. I had even wondered, What if this really isn’t for me? What if I am just assuming it is because it is on my step?

So that thought had entered my mind before I dismissed it and blogged about how much I loved the flowers, etc., etc. . . Because I really did.

The tears would not stop. Something had set them off, and it was not even about the flowers. That’s the thing. It was about the girl inside who looks like a 46 year old woman but still has insecure wounds that flare up at unexpected, inopportune times.

And now the internet witnessed one of them. At least all 14 people who read my post. I quickly switched it to private while processing my feelings. It was a huge step to not delete.

My son came to talk with me. I explained that it was not about the flowers and all about my 19 year old self processing a wounded place inside, exposed by the flowers and laughter. He listened and gave me a hug. I allowed more tears to fall.

Engaging the topic more, we came to a place of understanding, and I rested in a mystery solved.

I found the other family member to clarify that I was not upset with the laughter, and the tears were not about or because of them. It was me. Sometimes I can even laugh myself. I am moving closer to being able to laugh about this situation now that the intensity of feeling has waned, and I have had space to sort out what was happening inside. The person I freaked out at was kind and understanding.

I sat in a place of grief with myself for other times when similar flare-ups occurred when my adult offspring lived at home. I am sure there were many irrational mom freak out moments that caught them off guard and hijacked moments of laughter with buckets of sobs and tears, turning them into all about mom moments. I was not aware enough to recognize and name what was happening inside like I am getting better at doing now.

I still have a long way to go.

I am learning and growing and circling back to the nineteen-year-old inside. She is still there needing care and attention, and it is time to show up and tend to her.

And in the end, I reinstated my post as public, making only minor changes in wording. I am keeping the basket on the porch until the lovely girlfriend is able to pick it up and take it to her house where it will bring playful beauty and joy as intended.

I am grateful for the gift of its presence and story to help heal another space in my heart.

Hanging Beauty

I love the way the morning sunlight shines on the tree in my front yard, illuminating its leaves in a sunny green glow. I also love the addition of the hanging basket found on the steps of my side porch. I do not know where it came from. It is a mystery. 

Truly. It is lovely. I will enjoy it while it is here.

These flowers are a bright addition to the morning view, as they also glow in the sunlight. It makes returning from the dog walk an extra treat.

They speak to me of goodness and beauty in the midst of the hard. That vision was beginning to slip away.  My ability to see redemption in the strange places, small spaces was waning.

These flowers are one of many things that converged this week to offer hope.

Sometimes it’s hard to hold on. In those moments I will look out and remind myself to just be like the flowers and rest in the container. I do not have to work so hard at hanging on and holding everything together. I can just be and bloom.

I am glad that I sat down to write today. If you have time and are so inclined, actually check out the links. As they came to mind and I added them, the act of reading truth and seeing God’s faithfulness recorded in the archives of the blog offered encouragement to my soul.

Maybe you will be encouraged, as well.

M’aidez

May 1st. May Day. That very last thing I feel like doing is writing  a post which is the very reason I am writing. The sound of resignation was named in me today, and if for no other reason, I am proving to myself and to others that I have not resigned. Not yet. I will write.

Mayday! Mayday!

We all know that means Help me! Right? We know that? It’s the first thought that ran through my mind this morning when I woke and realized it was May first. Not, Look at the beautiful sunshine and a chance to live another day, but rather,

Help me!

Help came in a delicious breakfast prepared by my daughter, in a timely text from a friend, in a painfully honest conversation full of hard truth with another, in buckets and gallons of gut-wrenching, soul-wringing tears and heart-pounding sobs. It came in music from the neighbor’s house as I weeded the strawberry patch.

It is with me now as I write.

Mayday is from the French, M’aidez. (Help me) I did not know this until I looked up the history. It makes sense. I am glad for those years of French to help me understand. At least I was learning pronunciation when I was not being sent out of class for disruption.

Help me!

It is risky to ask for help. To receive help from others. To be reached out to and reach back. To feel safe in needing help. It is risky to need.

As I prepare for the final certificate 2 session next week and sit in my story, I am acutely aware of my need for, yet resistance to, help. I can see where resistance was formed and solidified. Where need was weakness and weakness was not tolerated.

I was needy.

Help waits for me at the end of the day in a living room with friends offering to engage hard struggles. I do not have to be alone in what feels too big and scary.

Because inside of me is a 19 year old who is trying to keep it together, and everything feels too big and scary.

M’aidez!

Insomnia

I don’t know if this is called insomnia or just waking up early. Whatever it is feels awful, and a cheerful bird in the tree outside is not helping matters. It has been merrily singing since 4:20 when I stirred with relief that it wasn’t 5:30 and jotted down the significant parts of a dream I was having.

winding dirty clock, trying to clean its face, tight springs, friend’s name, arrival at Air Bnb

I worked to keep my head in a fuzzy place of sleep while simultaneously staying conscious enough to type keywords into my phone’s notepad. Sometimes I actually succeed. The pounding in my skull warned that this was probably not one of those times and to be prepared.

The bird continued calling for attention as my stomach began chiding me for thinking that eating limited edition pumpkin pie ice cream from the grocery outlet was a good way to deal with yesterday’s difficult feelings.

Just one more spoon of the cinnamon-graham cracker swirl and maybe this will all feel manageable.

It does not work, by the way, and adding a grasshopper cupcake or vodka martini as a chaser is also counter-productive. Trying popcorn as a final late-night comfort measure, while warm and buttery going down just sits there on top of everything laughing. Then it all turns into a dirty clock the needs to be wound but is so tight that its springs are going to pop.

Dear Future Me. Like tomorrow’s me, or rather, today’s . . .

So here I sit in a space where if I were a real, intentional writer, I would be proud to awaken early in the quiet pre-dawn hours getting words out of my head and onto paper or into cyberspace. Instead, I anxiously glance at the bottom right corner of the screen watching the minutes tick away until I really have to wake up and face another day.

The alarm on my wrist buzzes the arrival of morning for real as the coffee pot lets out its final sigh and the smell of coffee fills the air.

Time is ticking. Counting down. Precarious.

So much change is on the horizon. So much is currently happening. So much swirls inside, and I run around chasing it with spoons of creamy, cold deliciousness, rather than making the hard, healthy choices.

I am tired of what feels so hard, which is everything at the moment.

Time has come.

Time to exit my quiet writing space and enter the kitchen where lunches wait to be prepared and coffee waits to be poured, and I wait to see what this day holds.

Good Morning, Friends. For real this time!

Idle Words

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
Matthew 12:36 (KJV)

As a child I grew up in a Baptist church where three times a week, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night I was in the pews. Dad was up front leading music. Mom was coordinating the nursery.  Sister was shining her Strawberry Shortcake mirror into the aged pastor’s eyes. Church was familiar, comfortable, unsettling, scary. All of the above.

Familiar and comfortable were the people and routines. The red of the sanctuary cushions and carpet, the curve of the armrest at the end of each row, the red Great Hymns of the Faith hymnbook to look through finding Fanny Crosby’s name (because Fanny), the tiny pencils and offering envelopes on the back of each pew, these all brought comfort and delight.

Unsettling was an open cross panel behind the pulpit, revealing the baptismal tank, or the atmosphere of the sanctuary was tinged with tension over a business meeting, or someone choose O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus for favorites night. These moments stirred anxiety.

Scary was the talk of judgment and hell and the end times. The rapture. The trumpet of the Lord. It seemed as if these days were imminently looming, and the only way out was 100% assurance by saying the Sinner’s Prayer, thus knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt with every head bowed and every eye closed, no one looking around.

Of course, I looked around, and if I was looking around how could I trust that no one else was?

I tried, but was never quite sure if I got it right. I never felt safe in God’s hands. I could never escape the shadow of a doubt. When that trumpet sounded and time was no more, I wasn’t certain that I would be there when the roll was called up yonder.

Those were terrifying thoughts for a child growing up outside of Washington, DC. Every midnight ambulance siren, train whistle, or police chase resulted in a frantic leap from bed to make sure my parents were sill in their room, and I had not been Left Behind.

How would I face the terror of the tribulation and the second chance that would only come if I did not receive the Mark of the Beast, enduring unspeakable torture inescapable even by death? The end of the world was always upon me, and I lived with a level of anxiety over my idle words to be given account of and shouted from the rooftops. I was a child full of words.

Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
Luke 12:13 (KJV)

This was especially poignant, because the closet in my bedroom was the perfect hideout, clubhouse, safe place for secrets. It came complete with a sliding board (following the construction line above the stairs) and was where I told the most important things to my teddy bear or my sister.

I often pondered how all of those idle words were tracked. What would the judgement day be like, when I stood before God to give account? I pictured God turning to a card catalog, like the one at my local library only bigger, and pulling out a drawer with my name on it. There were all of my idle words, categorized.

How times change.

I never imagined the technology of today, where idle words abound and multiply. They are everywhere, our own and others. We share them in texts, comments, and emails. We carry them in our pockets on our phones. They can be retrieved with a click of a mouse or swipe of a screen or insert of a flash drive.

In having a Baabish talk with my children recently, we discussed the importance of being thoughtful and careful with the words they use and send in cyberspace. Some are newly navigating those waters. I am well-aware I cannot monitor every word texted, sent, or spoken. I can remind them that once the words go out, they stay out there somewhere, even if we do not understand where or how.

I tried to explain my card catalog story, but I might as well have been speaking a foreign language. Times. They change. Words. They remain.

Choose wisely, choose well.

Urban Nest

I discovered the nest last spring while on a walk downtown. I would have missed it completely, had it not been for the erratic behavior of a male Mallard on a nearby patch of mulch. His frantic quacking and wing flapping engaged my curiosity, inviting me to move towards him.

A low bush stood at the edge of the sidewalk. There’s nothing to see here! quacked the duck, running back and forth. Through an opening in the branches, I noticed a female sitting on her nest. This was the cause of the male’s display. He was trying to divert attention from his mate and her clutch of eggs. Instead, he achieved the opposite.

This discovery brought me joy, as I walked home. Each day following, I made sure to walk past the nest and check on the duck. One day all that remained were empty egg shells. The ducklings had hatched, and were led away by their mama. It happened so fast. I did not even get a peek.

Mama duck is back again.

I noticed her last week on one of my walks. Since then she has been spotted both on and off of her nest. There is a pile of yellow eggs she is incubating, numbering upwards of nine, maybe ten. I am eagerly watching and waiting for the ducklings to hatch.

Maybe I will see them this year. Maybe not. Maybe I will have to pretend, once again, one of the many duck families down by the stream is mine.

The odd thing about this nest location is its distance from the stream. I imagine the mama leading her babies across the street to the grassy patch alongside the Catholic Church and down to the water. I wonder if she has a route planned out already? I wonder if traffic will stop when they cross?

Make Way for Ducklings much? This certainly isn’t Boston!

The rhythm of nature brings comfort to me. When uncertainty abounds, I know I can walk and check on my mama friend, and she will be waiting, just as I wait. She will be there until she is not. One day she will move on to the next thing and lead her ducks to water. I, too, will do the next thing.

Until then I enjoy the gift of another spring with her. I bask in the simplicity of watching Mama Duck feather her urban nest, as I work to feather mine. I lean into believing what I have, an indentation of soft earth, some downy feathers, sheltering branches, simple foods, a break in the twilight hours, is enough.

Beautifully, simply enough.

How to Enjoy Spring Break

1. Pack up the kids and head out of town.

2. Visit the new home of your adult daughter and son-in-law.

3. Sleep in the best room of the house on account of being the oldest person and the Baab (and Scoby) of the family.

4. Attend church as a family on Palm Sunday.

5. Pick up pizza after church and arrive home to find everyone singing karaoke.

6. Join in.

7. Do a Costco run with adult daughters and pay for everything in the cart, because looking around you realize you are the Baab and that’s what the Baab in the group does.

8. Come home and play Game of Things after figuring out where the pen is.

9. Laugh a lot and then some more.

10. Shop at LUSH getting bath bombs for most.

11. Meltdown on a double dog walk and crash from exhaustion while everyone else plays Quiplash into the night.

12. Keep your regularly scheduled Tuesday call due to no WiFi to send an email postponing it.

13. Go to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art with 9 other people related to you.

14. Relax and enjoy the museum.

15. Watch Netflix Nailed It over lunch.

16. Read 2 books.

17. Dream deeply and vividly each night.

18. Watch the kids open the pool for the season with a polar bear swim.

19. Wrestle your demons while your kids exercise their freedom.

20. Grab a second of hotspot to blog quickly before going off grid again and diving into a third book in as many days.

Spring’s Arrival

Spring arrived in a flurry of flakes and in ice crusted to the windshield when I went to pick up the girls from school.

It came to me in a broken off tree branch found and gathered while walking Dewey.

Unexpectedly, catching me off guard, the words Happy First Day of Spring! called to me from my child’s school communication notebook.

The words Due to bad weather schools will be closed tomorrow. flashed on the screen of my phone.

It’s Spring!

Spring finds me nostalgic and with more space for story. The broken tree branch with its tiny buds brought to mind a memory long forgotten, yet recently stirred. It prompted me to collect, bring home, and place into water not only that branch but two other similar small ones.

I set them in strategic locations around the house to the tune of “BaaaAab!” when Riley noticed.

On the kitchen counter

In my room

Long ago, a little girl received a letter in the mail from her grandpa M. In it she was reminded that spring was on the way, and that it was the perfect time to be watching the tree outside of the living room window for buds. She was encouraged to choose a branch to observe and sketch daily or every few days. This process would help her to slow down and notice Spring’s arrival. The little girl felt special and seen.

The memory remained tucked away in my mind until I was walking and noticed the broken-off  branch. I remained curious as to why I would be so interested in the buds opening and why I would want to bring it home to put into water and continue to watch when the memory came flooding back.

It helped me understand why I love the tree in my neighbor’s yard that can be seen from both my bedroom and TV room window where I often sit to think. Lately I have been focusing on the branches and sketching them as I ponder. I understand more why I love it in the fall. The changing branches remind me of the gift of seasons and the passing of time.

Thank you for the gift of a memory, Grandpa. Your words made a big impression on a little girl.

Feeling Joseph’s Story

Monday found me in Genesis 40-42 after a miserable night of insomnia culminating in a delicious snow day morning. I sat in a comfortable space ready to delve further into the Joseph story, one often used as a Look how God worked everything out in the end! Evil for good, good wins!

This is true. And good. But as I arrived at the end of the day’s reading I could feel Jacob’s anguish. I know that anguish. I could feel Joseph’s tears. I’ve shed similar tears. I was experiencing the story and not just taking in the facts. This began some journaling on the passage, not to be confused with an exposition on the subject. Following are my observations from Joseph’s story:

Jacob exclaimed, “You are robbing me of my children! Joseph is gone! Simeon is gone! And now you want to take Benjamin, too. Everything is going against me!
Genesis 42:21 (NLT)

I know the feeling that everything is going against me, even as many things are for me. God was sustaining Jacob’s life and his sons’ lives. Joseph was still alive, yet in the moment Jacob didn’t know. He felt everything going against him. While feelings are not truth, they often reveal how we are experiencing our present truth in light of our past.

~Earlier~

Speaking among themselves, they said, “Clearly we are being punished because of what we did to Joseph long ago. We saw his anguish when he pleaded for his life, but we wouldn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this trouble.”
“Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy?” Reuben asked. “But you wouldn’t listen. And now we have to answer for his blood!”
Of course they didn’t know that Joseph understood them, for he had been speaking to them through an interpreter. Now he turned away from them and began to weep.
Genesis 42:21-24 (NLT)

I feel Joseph’s grief upon hearing Reuben reprimand his brothers.

~Earlier Still~

When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”
But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness.Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.”
Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father. So when Joseph arrived, his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. Then they grabbed him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
Genesis 38:18-24 (NLT)

Years before, many years before, the brothers had seen Joseph coming, and, out of envy and contempt for his favor and dreams, made plans to kill him. Reuben heard their plan and suggested an alternative, pleaing with them to throw him into an empty cistern. Later he planned to rescue Joseph.

This argument happened before Joseph arrived on the scene. He witnessed none of it as his robe was torn off and he was thrown into a cistern.

~Then~

Then just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? His blood would just give us a guilty conscience. Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.
Genesis 37:25-28 (NLT)

~Where was Reuben?~

Some time later, Reuben returned to get Joseph out of the cistern. When he discovered Joseph was missing, he tore his clothes in grief.
Genesis 37:29 (NLT)

Reuben was not around, because he returns later to discover Joseph missing. This causes him distress as the brothers kill an animal for its blood and prepare their story of Joseph’s demise. Joseph’s life becomes a meanwhile as he is lifted from his family’s story and dropped into Potiphar’s house.

Years pass through chapters indicated by phrases such as in the course of time, some years later, some time later. Clues such as pregnancy, birth, adulthood of children born, death of the mother, indicate that daily life continued for the brothers and Jacob just as it did for Joseph who was placed on a different track.

Life went on, routine events punctuated by significant ones. Joseph faced the trauma of false accusation and imprisonment, of being forgotten by the butler for two years after predicting the butler’s release in three days. He held hope that he would be soon remembered while being long forgotten.

When he is finally released and brought before Pharoah, things begin to turn around. He is 30 years old beginning the seven years of plenty. He is married to Asenath, a priest’s daughter who bears two sons. Joseph names them from his story.

Manassah ~ God has made me forget my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.

Ephriam ~ God has made me fruitful in the land of my grief.

Though life circumstances have changed for Joseph, there is still grief, lost time, questions.

He is 37 when the famine begins and 44 at its end. His brothers are older than him. His father describes himself as a grieving white-haired man. (42:38)

During the time of famine, Joseph’s brothers appear before him. He recognizes them, remembers his dreams, and begins to be harsh with them. He questions and accuses. He imprisons them for three days, changing his mind from sending only one back home to keeping only one. He gives the imperative to return with the youngest.

This results in a conversation among the brothers, overheard and understood by Joseph. The mood takes a turn.

After Reuben says, Didn’t I tell you not to go against the boy, but you wouldn’t listen. And now we have to answer for his blood! (42:22)  Joseph turns away and begins to weep. (42:24)

The timing of the weeping struck me as I read. It came after he heard his brothers specifically name the wrong done to him. He is made aware for the first time that one of his brothers had spoken up for him. However cowardly, weakly, or poorly done, someone had not been in agreement. This, coupled with the changed hearts of his brothers, was a story-changer for Joseph.

For years, the data he had to work with was that all of the brothers hated him and had been unanimous in the decision to harm him. He carried that as he was sold into slavery, falsely accused, thrown into prison. Even as life began to change for the better, there was still an undercurrent of sadness and loss.

With this scene, the story lens shifts, more data is collected, and floodgates of tears are released. No facts of Joseph’s story change. A single traumatic event at the hands of his brothers after being set up by his father altered the course of his life, but redemption is close at hand through the path of weeping, grief, and repair of rupture.

I get to continue in this passage next Monday. Sometimes we have to sit in the unresolved sadness for awhile, in that space of grief and lament, where it feels as if all is against us, even when we know how the story ends.

Gathering Data

“In the absence of data, we will always make up stories. In fact, the need to make up a story, especially when we are hurt, is part of our most primitive survival wiring. Mean making is in our biology, and our default is often to come up with a story that makes sense, feels familiar, and offers us insight into how best to self-protect.”

― Brené BrownRising Strong

The first sentence is one of my favorite quotes right now and a mantra that keeps looping through my head. In the absence of data we always make up stories.

Since returning from Certificate 2 training two weeks ago, I have had few words to put into cyberspace and many to share in private conversations or to write in my journals. I have felt at a loss as to what to say or put out there on the blog as I re-enter yet another season of sorting out my own story.

As I grow in safety and ability to bring my childhood memories to those with more data to add, I am gaining a more focused picture of who I am and have become in the midst of the events that have shaped me. Themes in my story emerge, readjusting my lens from what I suspected to what I can name.

This shift has brought a need to clear extras from my world to focus on essentials. I have made a difficult choice to end some outside activities and ministries in order to spend time healing and growing. Rather than continuing to reach outward, I am bringing myself and my focus inward to those in my home.

This sounds obvious unless you understand the full extent of harm and self-protection that has caused me to shut down to those under my roof and prevented me from bringing myself fully to the ones who need me the most. This grieves my heart. Bringing closure to outside ministries has created space to be more present in my home.

I hope to elaborate more on this in future posts.

To those of you who continue to follow and read the blog faithfully, I applaud you and say Thank you. I am not sure where I am headed but will continue using the space to allow others in to what it looks like to face life more honestly.

Bloggers are supposed to find their niche and area of expertise. Mine seems to be in not having answers but continuing to fight forward on the journey to hope and healing.  It is in gathering data to put the story together. It is in the listening to and telling of stories.

You are welcome to join me. Maybe it will encourage you to begin gathering data of your own and picking up the pieces of your story.