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Loved

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I almost missed the message of the license plate in front on me while waiting at a stoplight. Having just dropped off the girls at middle school, I was lost in my own thoughts, preparing for the next pick up and drop off. Looking up, the letters caught my eye.

You are loved.

I needed to be reminded of this today. Thank you, Owner of the Personalized License Plate Car. I did not get to see who you were before you turned right, and I went left, but the message touched my heart. Or maybe someone got that plate for you, so that you would always remember. If so, the love trickled down. Either way, I am grateful.

The thing is, my head knows I am loved, but my heart does not always feel it. It’s a difficult dichotomy to bear. It can be frustrating to those who love me when I cannot see what is right in front of my face.

Like the license plate.

So I keep looking and trusting that I really am loved. And I keep seeing the signs that are all around. And even though I can not always feel it, I believe it is there. And sometimes I get to feel it, and it overwhelms me.

This time when I arrive home, my nine-year-old boss, not Zephyr, is waiting on the porch for me. Just as insistent that I get inside and on with the day, I try to appreciate her eagerness to be with me and only snap a little bit. Then apologize. She loves me, and I love her back.

We get ready to go, and I disappear into the bathroom. When I emerge, her dad is standing there, an unexpected change in routine which throws me all the way off.

Why are you here? I ask curtly.

I had to get something and thought I would pick up Mae and drive her in.

Softening, I recognize what I almost missed in my irritation. This act of love frees up a chunk of morning time that will help me launch the day. It gives me a head start on later, when I have a dentist appointment.

This is love, and I see and feel it with gratefulness.

I am loved.

And so are you.

Where are the Words?

Trauma takes our words which is why I sit in shock and disbelief over the news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas yesterday. The post I had hoped to write feels trite and self-centered in the wake of hearing about those who are only beginning to grieve the loss of loved ones and whose lives are forever altered by bullets and blood. Where are the words for this?

I did not hear the news until everyone had been dropped off at school. Switching from morning music to NPR, I was stunned by the story and the sounds of chaos that the soundbites played. My heart sank as I engaged the latest in a series of traumas that have been only a social media click or news report away.

Yesterday Steve was listening to an Allender Center Podcast on catastrophic stories while cleaning the kitchen. I joined him in the space to begin lunch preparation for the upcoming week. I had listened to this episode when it originally aired. Houston was the focus, having been left in the wake of the Hurricane Harvey catastrophe.

Sadly, Houston is now old news in the world of media coverage. We barreled on to scenes from Florida and Irma and then to the islands with Maria, and even those images are fading. New sights and sounds of trauma are here to flood us.

Yet there are still people living the trauma that overtook them. Just because we no longer see the pictures, does not mean that the houses have been rebuilt, the people have food, water, and clothing, that infrastructures are safe. Lives have been forever changed. Loved ones grieve from a distance, helpless and hurting.

I enter the house, bracing myself with dread. I know what will come later in the day, should I choose to look and listen ~ the comments, the commentary, the anger, the solutions, the accusations. I was looking forward to this month with anticipation, and now it just feels heavy. What is the point of anything? It is easy for me to slide down the path of despair.

The thief comes to steal, kill, destroy.

Dewey jumps up on my leg, patting me with his paws, waiting for me to clip on his leash for our morning walk. I leash him, grab a bag, and leave my phone in my room, choosing to disconnect and unplug even if only for half and hour. We walk.

The air is crisp, the sky is brilliant, the sun is dazzling, the shadows are long. Dewey steps along happily engaging the world as we do together each morning. He invites me to presence in his dog-like way, by doing his new trick of jumping and grabbing his leash in his mouth as if to say, Look at me walking myself! Aren’t I clever? Watch me jump!

I choose to see the beauty, because the broken is all around. It’s on the length of sidewalk I did not walk, because I know the dead squirrel is there, and I do not want to see or smell death right now. I almost stepped in it last night. The terror is real. I walk and ponder and pray.

Returning home, I settle onto my favorite couch with my Bible and journal. Lighting a candle the color of tears, I am reminded that Jesus weeps with me, and that he is here. He is Emmanuel, God with me, in the midst of the chaos and confusion when I have no words. I don’t have words for this.

I am grateful that I chose to love this morning before I knew this story. I drove the forgotten items into school without anger. I laughed over the irony of the poor quiz grade while signing the interim envelope. I let the little things go. I put on my Do Justice, Love Mercy, Be Humble shirt before I knew.

It reminds me of how to love, because that is what there is when there are no words. And we never know when we will no longer have the chance or the choice.

 

God of the Great Wall

I entered the final session of the final day, closing out my season of pursuing the Lay Counseling Certificate at the Allender Center. Group had ended in a profound way for me. Deep insights and keen observations by fellow members left me feeling settled and seen and incredibly grateful for the experience. There had been much goodness leading up to the arrival of these fast-approaching, fleeting, final moments.

Transition from the small group room to the large group area a floor below was quick. I needed to be present and on time for the final gathering around tables. Amidst chatting and ducking into the restroom, I instinctively grabbed my phone for a glance at the screen shots I had taken when I woke up that Sunday morning.

Facebook reminded me of where I was six years ago on that day. Did I want to share what was stirring with the others around the table?

Six years earlier, I had stepped out of my comfort zone and agreed to a trip to China with my sisters and three other women. Together we shared and experienced and grew. I brought back meaningful memories along with the souvenirs displayed around my home. They became part of my eclectic decor.

I had walked on the Great Wall at the end of a challenging trip where I faced many fears and insecurities and learned more about myself and my limits. Led by a local guide, I was instructed on how to pose and jump for this picture.

Following his instructions, trusting what felt counterintuitive, the shot became one of my favorites from the trip. Touristy? Of course. Fun? Absolutely. It popped up as a Facebook memory, as well.

I decided to risk sharing what was in my heart with those who had shared so much with me. The goodness that was spilling over was hard to contain. Passing my phone around I began,

This is where I was six years ago today. I was walking on the Great Wall of China with a Chinese man guiding me just as I have had a Chinese man leading me in group this year. In fact, their names are the same. Just as I had to trust what I didn’t understand about taking this picture, and the whole cultural experience in China, so I had to trust what I didn’t understand about the group process and the whole experience this year. I am amazed that God knew six years ago that this is where I would be on this day six years later. He knew I would be sitting in this space around this table with all of you. And he also knew that in my group would be two other Asian men that would become like brothers. I am so grateful for this kindness. My souvenirs and decor from that trip to China hold so much more meaning now.

That Sunday morning I felt seen by God in so many ways on so many levels. While my head knows that God always sees and knows me, my heart does not always feel it. In that moment I felt seen by the God of the Great Wall, the One who knows where I will be six years from now even when I cannot see. I can trust in the God of Miracles who met me in that space and is still with me now. I can trust and remember the goodness.

 

 

Butterfly Blessing

Choosing to leave my phone behind, I climbed to the middle of the back bench seat in the family minivan. Silencing the what if’s in my head surrounding all of the things that I could possibly need it for, the answer remained leave it behind.

I don’t even need it for pictures.

Late Father’s Day afternoon, Steve packed a cooler and announced his desire to visit Riven Rock Park. With seven of us going, the van was full. I chose to give my front seat to the eighteen year old who had spent many years wedged in the very back middle between the car seats of younger siblings.

Everyone scurried to find swimsuits, water shoes, and towels. Transitioning from house to vehicle was a challenge. While moving beyond struggling with car seats, diaper bags, and sippy cups, we now wrangle electronic devices, headphones, and seating arrangements. Somehow we survived the final painful push, and the house and van doors were shut and locked.

Upon arrival at Riven Rock, the van was emptied and the water filled with laughter and voices of siblings. Sunshine poured through the trees, and shadows lengthened. I walked down to the water, stepping gingerly from rock to rock, hoping to achieve my goal of staying dry as I meandered across the top of the water.

Meandering took me back to shore and up the length of the gravel drive, deeply engaged in thought. Without an electronic device to distract and pull me into what other people were doing or to announce to other people what I was doing, I was left with myself. This felt uncomfortable and unsettling. What am I doing?

It’s the question I get most often, these days. What are you doing now? or What are you doing next? 

The answer is I just don’t know.

Walking and wrestling with the unknown, I felt gravel crunch under my feet and heard birds sing in the trees. I asked Jesus to meet me in this space with what I needed, not even knowing what I needed myself. I walked and watched.

My eyes caught sight of something blue and papery on the ground. Once my mind registered that it was a butterfly, I thought it was wounded or dead. Closer examination revealed that it was resting while slowly moving its wings up and down. I stood still, breathing with the movement of the wings in, out, in, out.

The butterfly was not in a hurry to get anywhere. My mind raced to regret that I had not brought my phone to capture this moment of breathing with a blue butterfly that was being so still for so long without an injury. Then my focus shifted to capturing the present moment of stillness with it and reminding myself that it was enough to be just me with the butterfly without the entire world watching or even knowing about it.

The butterfly remained still before finally flitting upward and away towards the trees. I stood in awe and gratitude for what I had experienced in the moment. The practice of breathing and stillness and presence with a beautiful creature clothed in a color that I had never seen before was a gift.

Moments later the blue butterfly returned, alighting just in front of my feet. I peered down closely, trying to memorize its brilliant coloring and beautiful shape so that I could look it up and identify it later. Again, I matched my breath to the slow movement of its wings.

Is this what you had for me today, Jesus? The reminder to slow down and breathe? The knowledge that it is enough just being with myself and with you? The practice of stillness?

Suddenly the butterfly flew up from the ground, touched my forehead and flew away. I stood there stunned. It felt just as a butterfly kiss should feel, light and feathery and stunning. It felt like a butterfly blessing.

I was stunned and stood there in awe.

The butterfly returned a third, and final time. It landed again on the ground in front of me, just as my husband was walking up from the water. I imagine it looked odd to him to find me standing strangely still staring at the ground. I pointed at the blue butterfly, and he was able to glimpse it before the beautiful creature flew up and disappeared into the trees.

There is no picture. (The one at the top of this blog is a Monarch butterfly from my files.) There is no documentation. I cannot even identify the butterfly correctly from the images I find online. All that remains is the image in my mind. That has to be enough. I will trust that it is enough.

Because

Because you are my Shepherd, I have all that I need.
You allow me to rest in beauty.
You guide me in peace.

You renew me when I am weak, direct me to where I must go.
You are close when I feel afraid.
You protect and comfort me.

When I am surrounded by enemies, you prepare for me a feast.
You anoint my head with oil.
You overflow my cup with blessings.

Your goodness and love are not only available, they chase me down.
You are with me all my days.
You take me to live in your house forever when those days have passed.

Forever.

Because you are my shepherd.

 

Counting Down

It is the second countdown to Seattle. In a week I will be ending Day One, part two.

What has happened since the last trip? What was the outcome? What am I doing next? What will I be doing with this certificate when all is said and done?

These questions, and more, are asked by friends and loved ones. They are interested and care about this endeavor. Some have invested in me financially, others with friendship and prayer. Acquaintances are curious. In my mind I compose eloquent responses and blog posts. In reality, I work hard to plan and prepare for each module in every area of my life ~ home, work, studies.

This leaves little time for writing much more than lists ~ groceries and to dos, journal entries, lesson plans, and stories for Seattle. Fresh blog posts are moved the back burner and, frankly, by the time I have the space, they feel difficult to compose.

It takes a deep level of acceptance that it is, indeed, the right year for me to be doing this training. If I am not careful, it is easy to slip into envy of others whose lives I imagine as more ideal and better suited for this season of intense mental and emotional work. Then I remember truth and feel grateful for the gift of this journey.

Currently, I am sitting on my bed surrounded by recipes for next week’s meals and the beginning of a crude grocery list. I am navigating the choppy waters of middle school make-up homework enforcement while listening to a complete list of all of my parenting failures.

I am pondering how my own stories are playing out in my responses, both internal and external, that intersect with and shape my children’s stories. This upcoming session is about family of origin and attachment, so those topics are front and center in my thoughts.

My Family Narrative story is submitted, reading assignment is almost completed, a suitcase stands empty, waiting to begin being filled. I am living moment by moment. Each day is filled to the brim with necessary business. There is little extraneous these days. Life is good. Life is hard. Life is a gift.

I have rediscovered the music of 3 Doors Down on this journey. On my iPhone is an eclectic blend of albums and artists accumulated by my children over many seasons. 3 Doors Down is from son #1’s teenage years and several albums were discovered on my iPhone 4 while on the plane home from Seattle in September. Truth. It was such a sweet, surprising discovery!I love music. Have a listen and stay awhile.

This is one of my many confirmations that this year is the right one for me. Blessings! I am off to the grocery store, now!

Grounded

I returned from Seattle last Monday. Weekend one of four is tucked away in the books. This leg of the journey has only begun.

After an intense 25 hours of lecture and group time, it was lovely to spend Sunday afternoon with friends being a tourist before boarding a late-night, red-eye flight home.

Feeling claustrophobic in a window seat on a full flight, I was grateful that my cup of Sleepytime Extra tea seemed to be kicking in and that my neck pillow, however awkward looking, offered comforting support. Slipping off my sparkly Toms and on my cozy fleece socks, and covering up with a scarf-blanket, all I needed was music to send me on my way to sleep.

I slept.

It was a sweet grace to drift off for a few hours before waking to a waning-crescent moon and the big dipper right outside of my window in the clear black sky, so close I could almost touch them. Slumbering people sharing the row prevented me from getting up and walking around. Deep breathing and the moon and stars kept me from panicking.

Sara Groves sang in my ears as tears ran down my face. Tears invite curiosity, and I pondered what resonated so strongly between her words and my heart.

And I pray for a vision and a way I cannot see. It’s too heavy to carry and impossible to leave.

Heaviness. Impossibility. Vision. Change.

Drifting back to sleep, I stayed settled until the descent. Bright flashes of light caught my attention. I wondered if they were lights from the plane.

It was lightning.

I left sunny Seattle and returned to thunderstorms.

Touching down, the pilot’s voice over the speaker informed that lightning prevented the plane from being parked at the gate, since it was unsafe for workers to be out on the tarmac. Until further notice, all flights were grounded, and we were not going anywhere, including off of the plane.

This was a difficult space to inhabit. I was transported to days at the pool or the amusement park, or at a sporting event where timing the lightning was crucial to re-entering the activity. Those minutes between flashes felt like an eternity. There was nowhere to go.

We waited.

When the timing was right, I exited the plane, uncertain of what would be waiting inside. Would flights be cancelled? Rescheduled? On time? This time I knew where I was going and walked through the airport with purpose.

My flight was cancelled. Plans were changed. Instead of meeting my son in his classroom later that morning, I would spend the day grounded in the Charlotte airport. Weather is not something that can be controlled.

I struggled with this.

After much wrestling and acceptance, I breathed into the space that was a day at the Charlotte Airport and made my way to the chapel first. Sitting there in the quiet, I tried to hold what had just happened, but so many shoulds weighed down on my shoulders.

Giving myself grace to just be in the space, I practiced silence before re-entering the fray of a busy airport.

Disappointed that I had gate-checked my suitcase with the power cord to my laptop, I found a rocking chair to sit in and grounded my feet. The rocking motion soothed my soul as I watched the sky clear and the sun return.

My flight did not board until 5:30, so I spent time writing and reading and thinking. I got lunch and spent time reading and eating alone until I invited a lovely lady to sit with me when it was apparent that she could not find an open table.

This move was unusual for me, yet opened my heart to a sweet gift. We shared where we were in the moment and in life and found that in spite of the difference in our skin color, there were many similarities in our souls. A new sister was met, friendship was sparked, and numbers exchanged.

I left lunch in humility and awe at the kindness of God in the Charlotte airport. The space felt sacred and sweet. I saw and was seen. I was blessed. I spoke blessing.

The flight to Roanoke was uneventful and the drive home smooth. I was grateful to fall into the arms of my husband and into the comfort of my home.

Here is Sara’s music that met me on the flight. Maybe it will meet you, too. Be blessed, Friends! Thank you for sharing this journey with me.