Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A letter to Joshua

Dear Josh,

Tonight you made a few comments that made me think maybe you weren’t feeling so confident about yourself.  Nothing huge, but you seemed to think that maybe you aren’t in the “smart group” in math and that maybe you can’t succeed academically as easily as someone else can.  Of course, you made the remarks as if you were joking, but at the risk of sounding like President Obama, I want to be clear about a few things.  There is so much more to you than the grades on your progress reports or your math test.  (Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re going to let you get away with a half-hearted effort; we will demand the best you can do, because not to do so would mean we were not doing the best parenting we can do.)

Josh, there are some thing s that are easily measured on report cards.  Things like this:  Does he know how to multiply?  Do long division?  Can she spell?  Can she memorize the parts of a plant?  Can he name the state capitals?  Memorizing and understanding those things comes easily for some people and not-so-easily for others, but they have one thing in common.  They are easy for teachers to evaluate. 

Other things are not so easy to put on a test in school.  Like how much a person loves and values nature and being in the outdoors.  How good he is at building something out of random objects other people would throw away.  Like how fearless a kid is when he faces a challenge and how he jumps in with both feet to try new and dangerous things.  Tests cannot show how a person will spend hours searching for something in the woods without giving up and how he sees the beauty in every piece of nature he finds.  A test can’t prove how good a kid is at finding a snake every. single. time. he goes in the woods in the summer or how he finds and preserves turtle shells that no one else would have even noticed.  No test can reveal how strong and agile and coordinated is a boy who (just for the heck of it) climbs a tree to see if he can get onto the roof like the cat does . . . and then he does it.  (Of course, when that same boy thought it would be fun to ride his scooter on the roof, he was also obedient enough not to.)  Let’s don’t forget the boy who tried tenaciously to perform tricks on a scooter and then set up an obstacle course for himself out of baseball bats and sneakers just to see if he could master it.  (And he did.) No teacher will ask on a test if that same boy a few hours later built a fire in the backyard and made scrambled eggs and bacon over it with nothing but a stick.  If a teacher tried to come up with a test that revealed how many times in this boy’s life he had asked his mother, “What would happen if . . .,” well let’s just say she would be working on that one for years.  (The truth is I haven’t known the answers to most of your hypothetical questions since you were about five, but I try not to let you know that.)

Josh, you have amazed me since you were just a toddler with your love of the outdoors and your sense of adventure.  You long for adventure, and if no one will provide you with one, you invent one for yourself.  That is a trait that can’t be taught in a classroom with a book.  It is the innate way God made you, and I absolutely love it about you.  When other people see some sticks and duct tape, you see a pirate ship waiting to take shape.  When I say it’s too windy to build a fire, you spend hours building a snow shelter to block the wind.  That is problem-solving and ambition of the highest degree, but it won’t appear on your PSSA’s.
Never let the world or the classroom convince you that you are any less smart or gifted or able than any other person on the face of the earth.  You are uniquely you, and until the school system finds a way to measure tenacity, ambition, curiosity, creativity, imagination, and adventurousness, those things aren’t going to show up on your report card.  But they show up every day in the person that you are, and I see them.  I see them.  Make sure that you always see them, too.

With more love than you could fathom,

Ps.  You still need to bring up your math grade, but only because I know you can.  Sorry, kid.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Truth I can rest upon

It's no secret that I've been battling depression over the past year or so.  A few months ago, I began to notice some slight progress in moving out of the darkness, but, like most journeys in life, it's been touch-and-go.  Many days have felt like one step forward, two steps back.

This morning God spoke to my heart in a way that carried me from despair to hope in a moment.  It was a moment I've been waiting for, praying for, desperate for.  But, I'll be honest, mostly just waiting.

I've sung my way through many a worship service over the past year, and it's been a struggle.  It's been auto-pilot participation, wanting to connect with my Savior but feeling like my words were just empty and that the fog between me and the joy and the victory about which I was singing was too thick.  There was too much disconnect, and it wasn't "helping."

But still I sang.

Today, God spoke to my heart in a way I have not experienced in a long time, and I am breathless with thankfulness and joy at having heard His precious, but long silent, voice. 

Wanna know what He said?  (If you were there, you already know, so sorry about the repeat.)

He said, "Dear child, sometimes you can stand on mountain tops and shout that you are an OVERCOMER!  Other times, you can barely crawl through the valley and whimper it.  That doesn't make it any less true.  Truth is absolute, and it is not changed by your circumstances.  Was I any less the Son of God when I cried and sweated tears of blood in the garden than when I walked on water and raised the dead to life?  I AM WHO I AM regardless of my circumstance, and you my child are an overcomer because I have said you are.  So, if all you can do is crawl, and cry, and whisper it through your tears, that's okay . . . it's still true."

There was more.

He said, "I am your firm foundation.  You have been crushed down by the enemy.  I have seen.  You have despaired and felt like you were so deep in the pit that you may never find your way out.  But, my child, I am your firm, unshakeable, unmovable foundation, and YOU CANNOT SINK LOWER THAN YOUR FOUNDATION.  You are okay because I am holding you up.  Your despair will not overtake you because I AM HOLDING YOU."

As if that wasn't enough, God then delivered a sermon through a guest minister that was titled, "When You've Reached the End of Your Rope, You Haven't Reached the End of Hope."  If I could get a copy of it in every one of your hands I would; it was that good.  It spoke to my soul, and it healed me.

I am okay.

I thought today of friends I know who go to Universalist churches because they like the idea of connecting with other people, of affirming each other, and singing uplifting songs about shiny, happy, encouraging things.  And I felt so sad for them.  Because there is no Foundation there.  There is no Truth.  When the shiny, happy fades away, and the bottom falls out from under them, there is nothing to stand on.

But for a child of the most high God, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, there is a Foundation, and no matter how low I sink, I am held.  I am secure.  I am loved.  I am His.  And I am okay.

Even if I can only whisper it for now.

Below is a video of one of my favorite and most-listened-to songs.  (Hope it works.  If not, it's "I Have a Shelter in the Storm" by Sovereign Grace Music.)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Speechless (Originally published December 2009)

I enjoy the gaiety of the Christmas season as much as the next person, but I have to admit I'm finding it harder and harder to keep a reflective spirit this time of year.

Radio stations, in an effort to spread "holiday cheer," play so-called Christmas music round-the-clock. But, how many of these songs have anything to do with the birth of our Savior? How many of them speak of joy and good cheer but don't point listeners to the only Source of lasting joy? We hear of good tidings to men, but do we reflect on just how good the news really is?

While there's nothing wrong with "Frosty the Snowman" or "Jingle Bell Rock," I find myself thinking that we have let the pendulum swing way too far with the holiday songs and not far enough with the sacred.

One of my favorite things about our church in Georgia is the music. The wealth of timeless songs with deep, spiritually reflective lyrics. One of my favorite Christmas hymns that I just learned last year is Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. (Click the link to hear the beautiful melody.)

Based on Habakkuk 2:20, the words to this song were originally penned in the 4th century. (It was translated into English 1500 years later.)

I need the reminder that we are marking the birth of a sovereign God, and this is no trivial event. In fact, if we had any comprehension, any true understanding of what this means, it would render us speechless.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Some Words about Words

I have some grammar tips I'd like to offer you, my dear reader, free of charge.  Maybe you’ll use them and thank me; maybe you’ll ignore them and mentally note what an obnoxious grammar Nazi I am.  I would, however, ask that the record reflect the fact that I do not correct people individually for their misuse of the English language.  (Unless you’re my father, you won’t find me correcting your Facebook postings or your online musings.)  But, I see no harm in using my little corner of the internet to offer correction to anyone who just happens to read it, thereby making me kinder and more thoughtful than if I corrected you personally.  Either way, take the tips or leave ‘em, but let not ignorance of the (usage) law be your excuse any longer. 

1    1.  Note that I said these tips are being offered “free of charge,” not that I’m giving them away “for    free,” because that would make no sense.  One cannot give something away FOR free because “free” is not a thing.  One simply gives away.  So, instead of saying “The gas station is giving away coffee mugs for free,” just say “The gas station is giving away coffee mugs.”  Not only is it correct, it uses fewer words, thereby saving you breath.  See, proper grammar can make you healthier.

2    2.  If you decide to use the word “whence,” which a surprising number of people do, don’t preface it with the word “from.”  Sure, it’s commonly used and widely accepted despite its grammatical shortcomings, but is that really the standard for which we’re aiming?  Let’s shoot for a lack of redundancy instead.  “Whence” means “from where,” so when you say “from whence,” you are saying, “from from where,” and I think we can all agree that sounds ridiculous.  So, if you must say “whence,” please say “whence” and only “whence.”

3    3.  Don’t say literally unless you literally mean literally.  I was watching Cupcake Wars tonight, and the judge said that one of the cupcakes was “literally exploding with patriotism.”  While an exploding cupcake would have made for good television, it didn’t happen.  So, rather than literally exploding with patriotism, the contestant’s cupcake simply figuratively exploded with patriotism.  Which is way different.  And probably way less messy.

4    4.  Regardless means “without regard to.”  It’s a handy word; use it freely.  Irregardless is not a word and, therefore, does not mean “without regard to.”  Stop saying it.

5    5.   Lastly, contractions such as “could’ve” or “should’ve” are short for “could have” and “should have.”  They are not short for “could of” or “should of.”  Not only do the latter phrases not make any sense, they actually use fewer characters (if one counts the apostrophe) than the purported contraction.  Which kind of defeats the purpose of a contraction.

That’s all for tonight folks.  I probably should of stopped sooner, lest you wish for me to crawl back under the rock from whence I came, but since I’m giving these tips away for free, you have no place to complain, and I would of literally burst if I didn’t manage to get them all in, irregardless of whether you like them.

 See, it’s possible to use all five errors in one sentence.  Don’t let it happen to you.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On Just Breathing (But also using the word "bowel" . . . sorry.)

Sometimes I do Lamaze even though I’m not giving birth or even carrying a child.  At least, it’s what I imagine Lamaze breathing to be, having never actually given birth sans epidural.

But I do the breathing all the time  because of a chronic digestive disorder from which I suffer.  I have IBS, which is short for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Lovely, I know.  If I could hand-pick an affliction, I would certainly not choose one with the word “bowel” in it.  But, alas, I was only afflicted, never consulted.

It started seventeen years ago during my senior year in college.  It plagued me through my student teaching and my inaugural year in the classroom.  It followed me to law school where it worsened, thanks to the added stress and poor sleeping habits.  Over the years it has waxed and waned.  There’ve been weeks, even months if I’m really lucky, where I could almost forget about it.

And then there are times like now.  I’ve just come out of a good season; during the entire month of October I suffered only a handful of attacks.  But November and December have ushered it back with a vengeance.

It’s during times like this that you’ll find me lying in bed doing my “whale breathing” as David calls it.  It sounds a lot like Lamaze breathing I imagine. 

But focusing on the breathing is how I take my mind off the pain.  And in the breathing, I pray.  Breathe in; breathe out.  Breathe in; breathe out.  “Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.”  “Please, God.  Please, God.  Please, God.  Please, God.”

They’re not eloquent prayers, but the truest ones rarely are.

In a pig sty of self-pity I wallowed last night, wondering how I could possibly endure another seventeen or twenty-five or forty years of this.  Of game boards set up but never played with my children.  Cleaning supplies gathered in a burst of feeling good but sitting unused after all.  Plans canceled, work obligations dreaded. 

The thing about an illness like this is that you might see me in the grocery store at 2:00 feeling just fine and never believe that at 3:15 I would be completely debilitated and down for the count.

So as I lie in bed last night praying through one breath at a time as my kids were tucked in to bed by their dad instead me, I asked rhetorically for the millionth time, “Why?” What purpose could this possibly serve?:  In addition to the scriptures that often weave in and out of my thoughts during such times of distress, the words to one of my favorite Bebo Norman songs wandered into my mind last night:

Take me to the desert
You will be the water
I will drink forever to fill my soul

And lead me through the fire
Of darkness and desire
You will be my shelter
You will be my shelter

I'll find You there
I'll find You there

It's here that I call out
It's here that I fall down
It's here that I find out
That You are everything I hoped You'd be.**

If I could choose, I would find another place, another way, for me to call out, to fall down, to find out that He’s everything.  But I can’t choose the medium God ordains to bring me to my knees and, thereby, to Himself.

If I could choose, I’d spend the evening doing, being, working.  I’d get dressed for court in the morning and think of nothing but arriving on time and doing my job.

 But when I am struck down, I spend those moments instead breathing in, breathing out.  One breath at a time.  Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus. 

It makes life a lot harder, but I’ve learned that we often find Jesus in the "harder."  How else could He be the water in my desert and the shelter in my fire?

So, if you can't find me, I’ll just be here breathing.  Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.

(And for the record, I think writing a blog post about a bowel condition qualifies me for martyrdom all on its own.  Okay, God?)

(Also for the record, if I cancel upcoming plans in the month of December, don’t take it personally.  I’m just having a really rough month.)

** Everything I Hoped You'd Be, by Jason Ingram and Bebo Norman, copyright Brentwood- Benson Music
Writer(s): Jason Ingram, Bebo Norman
Copyright: Brentwood-benson Music, Windsor Hill Music, Sony/ATV Timber Publishing, West Main Music
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/bebo-norman/everything-i-hoped-you-d-be-lyrics/#DDXRciueJIfwsrsH
Writer(s): Jason Ingram, Bebo Norman
Copyright: Brentwood-benson Music, Windsor Hill Music, Sony/ATV Timber Publishing, West Main Music
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/bebo-norman/everything-i-hoped-you-d-be-lyrics/#DDXRciueJIfwsrsH.99
Writer(s): Jason Ingram, Bebo Norman
Copyright: Brentwood-benson Music, Windsor Hill Music, Sony/ATV Timber Publishing, West Main Music
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/bebo-norman/everything-i-hoped-you-d-be-lyrics/#DDXRciueJIfwsrsH.99

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On dishwashers, snake-sniffing, and superfluous language

Some snippets that are unworthy of a post of their own but that need to be freed from the clutter of my mind:


I've been playing this game lately with a steak knife that someone (to whom I'm married) used to open a package.  It is now covered in sticky tape gunk that won't come off in the dishwasher, so every time I unload the dishwasher I place said knife next to the sink so that I can scrub it by hand later.  I inexplicably forget that the next time I load the dishwasher, and I stick it back in without thinking.  Of course, upon unloading, I discover it anew.  Rinse and repeat.  I've been playing this game for at least two weeks now, and I don't seem to be winning.

On a related note, I usually set our dishwasher on a four-hour delay so it will run at night while we're sleeping.  If, however, someone opens it the door to put something else in it and forgets to press Start again, I will awaken to a dishwasher full of still-dirty dishes in the morning. 

A few mornings ago I commented to David that this was why there were no clean spoons.  I said, "I'm not accusing you, but someone put something in the dishwasher last night and didn't press start." 

His response: "What are the odds that someone other than you put something in the dishwasher?" 

Me: What were the odds that your laziness would someday serve you so well?


I'm convinced Joshua will have his own television show someday.  "The Snake Sniffer."  He loves to hunt snakes in the summertime, and I am always amazed at how many he finds.  I go outside all the time and return home snake-free, so where does he find all these snakes?  How does he find all these snakes.

I asked him.

"I can smell them," says he.

You're joking, I replied, you can't possibly walk through the woods and smell snakes. Yes, I can, he says.  He claims that he gets down close to the rocks (because that's what they usually hide under) and can smell when there are snakes under the rocks.  Given the number of snakes he finds, I have no choice but to assume this is true.

Now, if only this olfactory gift could be put to some better use than finding snakes.  Like sniffing out gold.  Or oil.  Heck, I'd settle for dirty socks.  Those, he can't seem to smell at all.


Lastly, I just want to share a pet peeve.  (Which, in case you didn't know is something that really annoys you.  The other day I was speaking with a fellow attorney who used the phrase to refer to something she cared passionately about in a positive way.  I heroically refrained from telling her that people using phrases incorrectly is one of my pet peeves.  Unless you're my friend, C, in which case it's endearing.  But ONLY her.)

Sooooo,  my pet peeve du jour:  the phrases "I'd just like to say . . ." or "I want to say . . . " 

There is no need to tell me that you WANT to say something.  Just say it.  No more, "I want to say thanks to everyone who helped me . . .."  or "I'd just like to wish so-and-so a happy birthday."

Just say it already! No need to be superfluous about it.

And, while we're at it, could you change the recording on your voice mail if it says that I've reached you when clearly the fact that I am listening to your voice mail recording means that I have most assuredly NOT reached you? 

Thanks to my brother's pointing this one out years ago, it has driven me bananas since.  (Note I didn't say "ever since" because that is another redundant phrase; eliminate it, too, while you're making all these positive changes.  You'll thank me someday.  And when you do, don't preface it by telling me that you'd like to.)


Okay, so I couldn't let my last one be all ranty and negative.  So, I'll add one more.

I have cute puppies.

There, much better.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On Being Broken

I’ve been broken.  For a while now.

It didn’t happen all at once.  It happened slowly like the changing of the leaves in the Fall from green to yellow to orange to gone.  If you pay close enough attention, you can see the slight changes, but mostly you just look one day and notice they’ve changed, and then you look again and they’re gone.

That’s what happened to me.  One day I was Me, and then when I looked again, I was a little less Me.  Not wanting to inspect the situation too closely for fear of what I might find, I carried on with the Not Looking until one day there was no escaping the absence of Me. 

If you don’t live near me, or if you don’t know me well enough to see it, you may not even have known.  Maybe you thought my leaves were always an orangy-yellow, or maybe you were mistaken about my having had leaves at all.  But the truth is my leaves were once full and bright and green. 

Until they started dying.

I don’t know how it started.  Our bodies are mysterious things.  People talk about physical pain and emotional distress and mental illness as if there are many separate parts of a person, but the truth is I have only one body, and all the parts of it make up just one Me. 

There has been physical pain in the last few years.  A lot of different kinds and for a lot of different reasons.  They say that chronic pain can lead to depression, but it’s hard for me to trace the exact path that took me from, “The scar tissue on my kidney won’t stop flaring up” or “My painful digestive disorder is incapacitating me” to “I want to hide under my covers for the rest of my life.”  Yet that’s where I ended up.

The thing about being broken is we always want to hide it.  When my leaves were bright and green, I didn’t mind showing them to the world.  I loved being a part of the world.  I participated in it fully, welcomed it, welcomed you.  But when I began to break, I began to hide.  It’s exhausting to try to make those ugly brown dying leaves look green, and let’s face it, who wants to look at brown leaves?  It’s easier just to tuck them away so no one can see.  But it’s in the tucking that the disappearing begins.

At some point I begin to notice that I was spending too much time in my bed.  Too much time in the cozy cocoon of cotton and down.  But I liked it there.  When I was in that safe place of my own making, I could drown out the Voice.  The one that said, “You’re failing everyone.”  Because if I let myself listen, that Voice had a lot to say. 

“You’re not a good mom.  What a lousy example your setting for your children.” 
“You’re not working hard enough at your job.” 
“You’re failing your husband.” 
"You're not praying or reading your Bible. What kind of Christian are you?"
“Your house is falling apart.” 
“You’re failing at everything.”

And that’s not the half of it.  I bet you know the Voice.  Maybe it hasn’t broken you, but I bet you’ve heard it whispering nonetheless.  It’s never content to limit its quiver of arrows to the present either.  As if being a failure right now isn’t bad enough, The Voice likes to fashion arrows from the mistakes and the pain of yesterday and to sharpen their points on fears of tomorrow.

So for quite some time now, I’ve been trying to hide from the Voice.  I’ve hidden in my bed.  I’ve hidden in my house.  I’ve hidden from my family and my friends and from the world because surely if I could hear it, you could hear it, too.  So, instead of trying to make my leaves look all pretty and green and alive, I just let them fall off altogether.

There was a day when I noticed my leaves were gone.  Noticed I was broken.  That was about a year ago.  But it was just too hard to try to put them back.  To grow leaves again is not easy.  To fix the brokenness requires so much doing.  So I stayed broken.

Until recently.  A few months ago I decided that maybe it wasn’t all or nothing.  The idea of trying to put back all my leaves – all my pieces – was just too daunting.  But what if I could find just one?  Just one piece of Me that might still be there?  One green leaf?

So, I made plans.  I don’t mean A Plan.  Not a plan to fix me, but plans with someone to do something.  Because the old Me did things.  Lots of things.  The broken me did nothing.  Just do something, I thought.  

And I did.

And it didn’t kill me.  So I did another thing. 

I’ve been gradually doing more of the Things until I’ve recently begun to remember what my leaves used to look like.  They’re not all back, but the hope of them is.  And that’s almost enough.

I’ve been hesitant to share this because people – not unlike myself – can be so judgmental about depression and brokenness.  But, I decided I didn’t care.  One of my favorite leaves on the old Me was the writer leaf.  It’s been dead for a long time, but maybe this is what I need to write about to bring that leaf back to life.   

Besides, I suspect we’re all a little broken anyway.  If your broken doesn’t strip you bare and leave you hopeless, then praise God and pray for the rest of us.  If it does, then know you’re not alone, and maybe if all of us with no leaves stopped hiding from each other, the broken wouldn’t hurt quite so bad.  Because the comfort we get from hiding in bed in our pajamas or from eating food or not eating food or from self-medicating is that it drowns out The Voice.  But, if we could all speak loudly enough to each other from our brokenness, maybe we could do that, too.