Changed

It is impossible to be looking into a new year without looking back into the past one.  This time of year often stirs us to take a look at our lives and ourselves, which in turn prompts us to make attempts at changing.  Our attempts may be well-intended, but studies show that about 80% of all resolutions are broken by mid-February.  That seems surprising, but it really isn’t when you think about it.  I mean, after all, where do these resolutions come from?  They are like short-term relationships that are doomed to fail from the beginning.  But why?  I believe it’s because of the manner in which we enter into them.  Like most things in our society, we start off great but lose the ability to follow through when things get tough.  It’s easier to just throw in the towel and revert back to the familiar because it’s what we’ve always known.  As they say, “Better the devil you know that the devil you don’t.”

shutterstock_446732614True changes don’t come easy.  They are uncomfortable, even painful at times.  They come at inopportune moments or cause us to lose things we really, really don’t want to let go of on our own.  Those of you who have read my posts this year will understand when I say 2019 was a challenging year.  I’ve caught myself saying a lot lately that I hate 2019 and can’t wait for 2020.  The truth is, 2020 isn’t going to change anything.  It isn’t a new year that changes us; it is we who change the new year.   As the new year got closer, I noticed my perspective on last year starting to shift.  I actually started to see things differently, and my heart softened to the experiences in 2019 that left me curled up in a ball, crying myself to sleep so many nights, thinking I just can’t get through another day.  Every day brought tears and pain, but as I looked backwards,  I began to see through those times to the incredible experiences and growth that has happened as a result of them.  It really has been amazing.   I am not the person I was a year ago, and for that I am grateful.

When looking back at the past year, most people talk about life events, changes, gains and losses, and other things that have taken place.  It is easier for us to talk about what has happened to (or around) us than to talk about what has gone on within us.  Looking inward requires us to strip down and be honest with ourselves about what we see.  For me, this past year has brought so many of those moments that I’ve lost count!  Maybe it’s because life in general was so full of loss and griefs that I didn’t have the energy to keep pressing on in the same way I had for most of my life.  Was it a brutal year?  Absolutely!  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but it wasn’t without purpose.  Through the difficulties, I’ve learned to let go a little more.  I still struggle with it, but I’m finding peace in the liberation when I do.

If I were to articulate the long list of events and how they’ve changed me, I’d be writing all night.  However, if you were to ask me to name the single most life-altering thing I’ve experienced in 2019, well, that answer is easy.  It wasn’t leaving the church I belonged to for over 20 years, the loss of my husband’s parents, or even the fact my dad had to move into a memory care facility due to dementia.  Those things certainly altered my life in huge ways, but the biggest reverberation in my life came from the teaching and study I have been a part of in the home church to which I belong. shutterstock_1234835116 It happened totally organically a year ago, and I could not have dreamed how amazing it would become.  The teaching our pastor has continually shared with us has been the most liberating of my life.  Some of that impact comes from the fact he is real and vulnerable with us, while some of the impact is the way we are challenged through our discussions to live life differently.  It is certainly not a traditional format, but I’ve been changed more in the past year than I can ever remember being changed in the past.  It’s just different, and as a result, so am I.  In the middle of the worst year of my life, God brought me through it by first using a man who was willing to answer His call, then surrounding me with a group of believers who have all been called to come together to be real in this journey of learning and following Christ’s example of who we were created to be.  It is this realness in every aspect of life, the sharing of our struggles and truly bearing each other’s burdens that has only deepened our desire to learn more, and to be changed more.  It is this unique experience that has changed my life forever.  What I’ve learned has been gut-wrenching at times, but it is amazing what God will show you about yourself if you will just get your eyes off of everyone else.  I’ve been liberated from old perspectives, of myself and others. I’ve even been liberated from some specific chains that have held me captive my entire life.

2020 begins a brand new year, and i’s a great time to tackle something new or set goals for what we want to accomplish.  It’s a good time to reflect on the past year, or longer, and appreciate the difficulties we have come through or even the ones we are still trudging through.  But it is also a good time to look deep within and start focusing on the things that bring lasting changes.  I don’t want to make a resolution, or several of them.  I don’t want another task in my life to complete; I have enough of those.  I want to continue to truly change.  It isn’t easy to do, but there is some truth to the phrase, “no pain, no gain.”  If any of us want to learn how to live with peace, joy and strength even in our toughest times, we must be willing to turn our eyes honestly inward through the truth of God’s word and see what we really need to change.  It may surprise you what you find.  A year ago, I thought I knew who I was, but I have learned I wasn’t nearly the person I had hoped.

shutterstock_257497339Life can, and will, beat you up.  I don’t want to spend 2020 with the pessimistic mindset that crept in over recent years, but rather with the peace that comes from knowing God will always be working in the lives of His children.  I don’t want my inner dialogue to keep telling me things won’t work out, or that things aren’t “fair.”  I don’t want my “justice gene” to cause me to look down on others or take things personally.  I want to continue to be open to God revealing those things in me that I have chosen to be blind to in the past.   In doing so last year, I’ve experienced a liberation I did not see coming, and it changed my life.

As I mentioned earlier, it isn’t a new year that changes us; it’s we who change the new year.  We can choose to keep doing the same things we’ve always done.  We can choose to hide behind our despair or lash out in anger.  We can choose to focus on the splinter in someone else’s eye instead of the log in our own (Matthew 7:3).  The reality is that we can just keep on trucking and wonder why the abundant life keeps eluding us, or we can choose to be changed by the One who created us.

It is impossible for us to know what the new year will bring, but if we open ourselves up to what can change us far longer than any resolution, we can weather any storm because we know the master of the wind.  It’s up to us…choose wisely.

Happy New Year and blessings to you and yours.

The Little Blue Sock

shutterstock_65088625.jpgOver 70 years ago, my mom was just a sweet, little 5-yr old girl living in a small town in California.  She’d been hearing her friends talk about Santa Clause in December, and how if you hang a stocking on your fireplace, Santa Clause would fill it with candy and toys if you had been good.  My grandparents weren’t raised with the standard traditions of Christmas being all that important, but my mom certainly didn’t know it.  Mom didn’t have a stocking, nor had she ever heard of Santa Clause.  They didn’t even have a fireplace in their small house, but on that Christmas Eve she took one of her light blue socks and taped it to her door in hopes that Santa would show up. On Christmas morning, she got up, excited to see what she had received.  She ran to where the sock was hanging and it was still there…untouched and empty.  Her little heart was crushed and she thought maybe she wasn’t good enough, or maybe her friends had lied to her. 

After Christmas, Mom took a ride with her dad (my “Pop” that I adored), and he asked her if she liked what she had gotten for Christmas.  It was then then she told him about the sock.  As they talked, eventually the subject of the Easter Bunny came up and Mom asked Pop, “Do you think the bunny will leave me candy if I have a basket?”  Pop replied, “I think he will.”  That Easter season, Mom put out her basket, and when she woke up the next morning, her basket contained a package of Heath bars.  Her heart knew, even at that young age, that Pop made sure she wasn’t disappointed again.

img_4890-edit.jpgFast forward to Christmas in our family this year.  My mom is now living with my husband and I, and my Dad is living in a memory care facility.  This is our first Christmas on this new journey, and it has brought many logistical and emotional changes.  I’ve woken up at my parents’ house for Christmas my entire life.  Even as adults, we spent the night with them.   This year, I woke up with my husband in our house, the one we now all share together.  It felt strange not packing up on Christmas Eve to go to my parents’ house for the night.  I knew my Christmas morning would feel different too.  Mom, for the past 30 years or so, woke us all up at 5:00 am by loudly playing The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole.  It’s impossible for me to hear the opening of that song without memories of those mornings flooding my mind.  Our traditions have now been changed not by choice, but by our circumstances.

Traditions, no matter how strong, are always vulnerable to life circumstances or personalities of those who’ve been a part of them.  Some things in life can’t be exactly the same, but they can still be beautiful.  It all depends on whether or not we are willing to open our hearts to new experiences or are able to let go of past ones we wish we could keep forever.  Believe it or not, we have the ability to adjust and adapt in ways we never thought possible. As a matter of fact, some of our greatest revelations are the things we see when we are forced into searching for new ways of doing things.  It is easy to get comfortable and go on auto-pilot when it comes to certain aspects of life.  Familiarity can bring great comfort, but it can also cause you to not even consider what else might be just as (or even more) amazing.

mom blue sockSo, this year, in the midst of the glaring changes to the early part of my Christmas morning, I decided to do something different. I thought about my 5-year old mother and took a light blue sock, filled it with a little toy, a few pieces of candy, and yes, a Heath bar.  I taped it very quietly to the door of my mom’s room and started playing The Christmas Song on my phone that I had laid against her doorway.  As I stood hiding in the morning darkness, listening for the sound of Mom taking that sock off the door, I couldn’t help but think about how there are always opportunities for creating beautiful moments, no matter if they’ve been going on for generations, or whether it’s the very first time it’s happened.  I peeked around the corner of my mom’s room and said, “Merry Christmas.”  There sat my mom on the edge of her bed, laughing and crying at the same time.  So, we sat on the bed together in the faint glow of daybreak, reminiscing about her childhood, “Pop,” our family, and how anything can be redeemed, even if it takes 70 years.  It was my greatest gift this year.

Christmas Day may be behind us, but the gifts that remain are those experiences we shared with family and friends, or even others along the way.  It is the opening of our hearts, listening to each other and loving each other through the difficult times that reminds us we are not alone.  In life, as with Christmas, we need to look for the beauty outside our traditions as well as within them.  Sometimes it is through the changes we didn’t expect in life that we find the changes that make life more beautiful.

Live with your heart open, and when you get the chance along the way, always take time to fill someone else’s little blue sock.

Blessings!

Peace In Letting Go

It seems like so long since I have been in touch with you all, but hopefully this will bring us all back together because, quite frankly, I’ve missed you.

shutterstock_213079855We all have reasons and circumstances in life that cause us to retreat.  It doesn’t matter the source, because the reactions are much the same.  For me, it has been several years (especially the past year) of dealing with a loved one who has Dementia and struggling to leave a church I’d been part of for over 20 years.  Then my husband’s parents died just four days apart.  Within a matter of weeks, things substantially declined with my dad and he ended up moving into a memory care facility which resulted in my mom (whom I love beyond words) moving in with my husband and me.  To say it has made my heart wander and wonder would be an understatement, yet here I am doing it more than I could have ever dreamed.

Life is hard, and sometimes it seems we get beat up every time we turn around.  On top of that, people can also be mean, unkind, selfish and even narcissistic, including ourselves at times, which is why it’s so important to be able to reflect and take a look inward to see how we are contributing to the situations in which we find ourselves.  I am learning (more slowly than I’d like) there are times when you just have to step away.  When reality slaps us in the face, sometimes we have to be willing to let go of expectation.  That’s something I’ve never been able to do very well because I am not a good “leaver” no matter the situation.  When I was younger, I couldn’t have anticipated how much pain that trait would cause me over the course of my life.  There is a fine line between believing or hoping for the best in someone and subjecting yourself to continual heartache, bullying or abuse.

When you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel as though you are on the outside of something, whether it is a job, relationships, church or anything else, there are always things you can do to try and regain your footing.  The struggle that comes with finding your footing is that sometimes it may require you to step somewhere else.  shutterstock_1492027019THAT is something with which many of us are not comfortable.  Stepping out of what we want into the reality that exists means we have to let go, give up, and be willing to experience the loss and grief that comes with doing so.  Peace doesn’t come easy in these kinds of seasons in life.  When you are between a rock and a hard place, even if only by perception, it is painful no matter which way you turn.  But it’s also in that terribly lonely place that you are forced to look at what you are willing to do to be free.

As a person of faith, I have struggled with what to do or where to be.  I believe God has a plan for each of our lives, for my life, and yet I get discouraged or feel like giving up just like many of you.  Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t experience times of discouragement, rejection or even utter despair at times.  It doesn’t mean we won’t get tired or feel lonely.  Jesus himself experienced these same things when He was walking on this earth.  Our emotions aren’t sinful; they are human, but it’s what we do with our emotions that’s important.

They say confession is good for the soul, so I have to tell you that as I was writing this post, I was interrupted by a song I’d never heard before.  It was validating, comforting, and convicting all at the same time.  The song is called “Ordinary Love” by the Jim Brady Trio, and the words of the chorus have been echoing in my mind over and over.  “Ordinary love, a love that winds its way through common conversations and simple acts of grace, ‘cause no one needs a superstar and no one need a saint.  We need someone to just show up with ordinary love.”  As I sat here listening to the song over and over, I first nodded in validation we all need that kind of love, yet I’ve been fighting the oppressive sadness of feeling left out, unimportant, and insignificant.  My world has been feeling increasingly small and lonely until it finally takes too much effort to even say anything anymore.  Then as I continued to listen, I felt the tears streaming down my face at the comfort those lyrics were bringing, because no matter how I am struggling or how silent it feels, I am so grateful for the few people who show up every single day in my life with “ordinary love.”  They put legs on their intentions without prodding or having to ask for it. Then as I continued to hear those lyrics over and over, my heart began to be convicted about how important it is for me to just keep on walking where God has called me and to love people the way I always have…with all my heart…in the little ways that matter.

shutterstock_229454029When life gets so overwhelming and you can’t breathe, sometimes it is the smallest acts of grace and kindness that get you from one day to another or from one breath to the next.  Yes, there are things we must let go of to move on, and sometimes those things are deeply painful and even wounding to our hearts and spirits.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let go of things, people or even our expectations; it just means it’s going to take some time to heal as a result of doing so.  We simply need to step back and listen to that still, small voice inside, and then walk on as peaceably as possible down the path ahead, even if the ground is stained with our tears as we move along.

If you are in a season of your life filled with feelings of isolation, insignificance discouragement or despair, you’re not alone.  Yes, it’s hard, and yes, it may be time for big changes within your heart that lead to changes elsewhere.  Just remember, that even as you are trudging through each step right now, be kind in your silence.  Be strong in your fatigue.  Be gentle in your frustration and disappointment, and choose to still fill the world around you with ordinary love.

Blessings!

Not Without Hope

Many of you have heard the Bible verse that says we sorrow not as those who have no hope.  I would assume that almost every occasion (if not all) was in reference to someone who has passed from this life.  Sure, it is a comfort to know that we can have hope in the midst of our grief when we lose someone we love, but these past few weeks or so have once again made me look at a common verse a little differently.  I recently lost my dear uncle Dewayne Hoppert, and it has affected me in the most profound ways.  Of course the verse I mentioned keeps coming to mind, but not in just the sense of hope I have of seeing my uncle again, but more in how my uncle lived HIS life.

dewayne happyMy Uncle Dewayne (or Uncle Wayne as I called him) was the most amazing man of faith and incredible teacher of God’s word.  He gave up a very successful and lucrative career in construction to answer the call to full-time ministry.  He earned a double Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and Bible Languages, as well as Master of Bible Languages and Doctor of Bible Languages.  He was not only masterful in his study of God’s word and everything associated with it, but also in relating it to others in the most easy to understand ways.  He was an incredible Pastor and Uncle, but he was an even more amazing example of what it means to live by faith.  Uncle Wayne lived with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis for many years.  He had continual health issues, eventually ended up in a wheelchair and often needed assistance physically.  By all rights, he should have been sad, depressed, and maybe even angry at God for allowing him to suffer physically after he had dedicated his entire life to His service.  Many people would have thought, “If this is what serving God and living by faith means, then I don’t want any part of it.”  But not Dewayne.  Nope, my Uncle Wayne always had a smile on his face and encouragement for everyone else.  You could always hear him laughing from the depths of his soul or whistling as he wheeled around the church.  At his Celebration of Life service, it was one of the most talked about aspects of his life aside from his faith, and yet it was his faith that allowed him to be so joyful and hopeful.  How in the world was he able to keep that attitude no matter what stresses came into his life (physical or otherwise)?  Well, for lack of a better statement, “He sorrowed not as those who have no hope.”

Grief and loss is such a terrible sensation.  Whether we lose a loved one, our jobs, a relationship or any other thing we value, it saddens us.  It grieves us.  It breaks our hearts.  I have lost a lot of people in my life who were dear to me, and I usually go back to this verse (along with others) to comfort me that I will see them again.  Some losses have been profound, but this is the first time I have been so confounded by one.  Maybe it’s because Dewayne was my “second dad.”  Maybe it was because, for 20 years as Music Director, I had the privilege of working so closely with him as the Pastor.  Maybe it was that he was so consistently there for me as my Uncle.  Maybe it was that he was a giant of faith in my eyes.  Or maybe, just maybe, it was simply because he lived every word he ever taught or preached.  Every time he said, “God is in control,” or “God’s got this,” he spoke out of the experience of living it.  He may have doubted now and then, but he never caved to that doubt.  Instead, he talked about how we can live victoriously over our circumstances through our faith, hope and trust in God.  And just like him, we can do the same thing by letting our love and gratitude for God drive our mindset.

shutterstock_672165244Hope is not easy to come by in a hopeless world.  Recently our Pastor brought a message on hope, and it reminded me of what Dewayne always taught:  The word “hope” used in the verse  “…sorrow not as those who have no hope,” isn’t the kind of hope this world has conditioned us to consider.  This is not just wishing for something.  We talk about hoping we get that promotion or raise.  We talk about hoping something goes well.  We hope our team wins the game.  We hope the weather is good.  We hope, we hope and we hope, but what we are really saying is we “wish.”  This verse, however, uses a word that does not infer wishing, but conveys the certainty of a positive outcome.   I’m not going to go into all the certainties of the resurrection or the certainty of our salvation as believers.  Instead, I want to talk about this idea of being certain of the positive outcome of a situation.  Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for our ultimate good and His glory, but when you are trudging through difficulties it’s hard to feel that way.

Having faith isn’t very hard in the good times, but when the rubber meets the road, we are so quick to complain and murmur.  We complain about our jobs, families, churches, traffic,  health, and everything else that doesn’t go the way we want.  We all have difficulties and challenges, but we don’t all go through them the same way.  The Bible is filled with verses telling us God can be trusted and that we need to trust Him.  It tells us He operates differently, and has ways that aren’t like ours, because He sees the big picture.  He knows all the paths in my life and sees it as a beautiful tapestry, where all I see is the mess of threads on the other side.  He isn’t doing things to harm me, but I can only see the threads, and sometimes it feels like He must be mad at me based on my circumstances. But in Jeremiah 29:11 He declares, “For I know the plans I have for you: plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Verse after verse tells us to seek God first, and He has promised He’ll take care of us in every way.  Dewayne used to say our problem with being totally committed to trusting God is that we KNOW He will take care of us, but we are afraid He won’t do it like we want Him to.  That’s so very true.  We want Him to lead us, but not if it takes us down a path that has difficulties.  We’ve twisted our perspective of God and who He is so much that it’s no wonder we struggle with our faith when things go wrong.

shutterstock_527029558I’m going to be a raw here for a moment.  I miss my Uncle Wayne more than I could possibly put into words.  At times it is an isolating sensation, even though I know others miss him too.  The sorrow over the loss of his physical presence is even more difficult than I imagined it would be.  I miss everything about having him here to see and talk with, whether it was laughing about old times, sharing music, discussing God’s word, or even just saying nothing while enjoying his company.  My heart breaks every time I realize I won’t have one more hug, smile, laugh or conversation with him.  It is a loss so profoundly difficult to process, but then in those moments it’s almost as if I hear his whistling drifting down from Heaven.  I am reminded of what he endured in this life and how he kept his faith no matter what he had to face.  I remember things he taught, but more importantly I remember what it looked like watching him actually live those very things through faith.  He wasn’t perfect, but I’ve never known anyone who was a more perfect parable of what it is like to be a sinner saved by the grace of God, living victoriously through trust and faith in Him.  I told someone recently that we have the perfect, sinless example of Jesus Christ on how we should live our day-to-day lives, but I was blessed beyond measure to have the most perfect example of what it looks like for an imperfect child of God to dedicate himself to learning God’s word, loving God’s word and living God’s word – even when he messed up.  I saw someone who asked for forgiveness when he sinned and understood that he didn’t have to beat himself up over it, because God forgives AND forgets.  I saw “perfect imperfection,” and it was incredible to witness.

My last visit with Dewayne was something I intended to keep private, but now feel compelled to share with you.  I did not intend to see him in the hospital because my previous visit at church with him had been so “normal.”  I was content with it, but less than two days before he passed from this life, God tugged at my heart, and I wanted to go see him.  I couldn’t explain why, but my husband and I headed to the hospital.   He was resting and not very alert, though he would nod and react to what we were saying.  There were even a few moments of laughter and responsiveness.  Before we left, I took his hand and told him I loved him.  He kind of mumbled that he loved me too, and then said, “Hey Mike” to my husband.  On the way down to the lobby of the hospital, my husband and I were talking about being glad we came, even though it was tough.  Suddenly I realized I had left my purse up in the room.  DANG!  We had to go back.  I wasn’t thrilled, but it ended up that my forgetfulness was a total gift from God.  When I walked back in the room, he was actually quite alert.  I got my purse, but then he started talking with me.  We spoke for several minutes, mostly about God being in control.  Here he was, still proclaiming God’s goodness even in his most difficult time.  He told me three different times how proud he was of me, which felt like warm oil soothing my heart.  As we talked, he said, “God’s got this.  There may be some challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and everything is going to be ok.”  He repeated those sentiments several times throughout our conversation.  Then he said, “Study,” and I told him the great thing was that he had actually taught all of us HOW to study through the rules of interpretation.  I told him he had equipped us, and that I would absolutely study.  I said, “That’s a great gift because you can listen to someone all day long but until you study things out for yourself, you don’t own it.”  He pointed at me and said, “That’s right, you’ve got to OWN it.”  He and I then clasped hands, and he pointed at me with the hand I was holding and said, “Now you’re responsible.”  Although my cousin and I laughed and joked a little bit, in my heart (and based on his expression), I will always believe he meant we are the next generation and we need to carry on in faith.  Before I left, we told each other “I love you.”  This time there was no mumbling, but the clear beautiful words that are etched into your soul in those moments.  As I left his room I turned around and pointed at him, and he pointed right back.  Then I gave him a thumbs up, and he laughed and gave one back to me.  That was the last image I had of him.  He was laughing with me and giving me the thumbs up.

I started this post saying I have never had a loss that affected me so profoundly.  It is because the way he actually LIVED affected me so profoundly.  It is a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of memories and lessons that is too massive for me to be able to wrap my head around.  My last visit with him was filled with more than what I could have ever imagined.  His ability to keep his faith, trust and joy was so strong that it filled the room in which he was staying.  It really was no different than how it filled every other room he had been in over the course of his life.  He was different.  He had HOPE!  He knew it didn’t matter what he faced, even when he had every right to be angry or bitter, because in the end he knew he was going to overcome.  He never sorrowed in this life as those who have no hope.  He had hope even when MS began to make it difficult to do certain things.  He had hope when he became confined to a wheelchair.  He had hope when his health faltered or when he had to deal with other challenges associated with life or ministry.  He didn’t just have hope, he LIVED hope!  And so can we!

Matthew 5: 14-16 is something Dewayne spoke about quite often.  “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  So let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”  He always said those verses don’t say we might be light, but that we ARE light; the question is whether or not we are going to shine or hide.  We have a reason to hope (the certainty of a positive outcome), and it is our turn to shine.  We don’t have to reserve our hope simply for knowing we will see our loved ones again.  We can be certain every day and in every circumstance (no matter how difficult) of exactly what my Uncle Wayne last said to me:

“God’s got this.  There may be challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and it’s going to be ok.”

Blessings!

Sorrow From the Sandlot

This morning I found out that my childhood best friend lost her father yesterday.  I haven’t stayed in close touch with Dawn over the years, but she was my best friend during the best years of my childhood.  In the late 70s, we had moved from California to Little Rock, AR as a result of my dad’s job.  Dawn was the first friend I made, and it seems we almost instantly became fast friends.  We spent three years in Arkansas – just three years out of my 48 – but those three years were the best years of my childhood.  Sometimes I think they were the best three years of my life.  I was at an age where I was old enough to be allowed to go out, run around the neighborhood and woods, and play without supervision – living a  tomboy’s dream.  But I was young enough that I didn’t know all of the bad things that could happen or were going on in the world.  There was a lot of upheaval, as there always is in life, and yet for me, none really existed.  It was just a great time in a great place with the best of friends.

Dawn DeannaDawn and I both had a strong tomboy spirit.  We didn’t mind getting dirty and we played football and all kinds of other sports.  We even competed together against a bunch of boys in a Punt, Pass and Kick competition.  I’m pretty competitive, and so was Dawn, so when she beat me in that competition, I wasn’t real happy about it.  What I was happy about was that she and I took 1st and 2nd place in a competition in which we were the only girls.  It’s one of my great memories, and the truth is we were girls who could kick butt!

Dawn had an amazing family.  She had the most beautiful mom of any friend I ever had.  She was stunning, and she was kind.  I didn’t spend much time with Dawn’s dad.  I dare say, he probably didn’t even remember me after a number of  years went by, but I remembered him.  I remembered the family he led and raised, of his influence on his family and what wonderful people they all were as a result.  Over the years after we moved back to CA, I lost touch with Dawn until 16 years later when we reconnected.  We spoke on the phone and said we would stay in touch, but then like most people do, we got busy with our lives and lost touch again.  It would be another 12 years or so before we eventually reconnected on Facebook, and in doing so have been able to keep up with each other’s lives even though we haven’t seen each other in more than 30 years, nor have we spoken voice-to-voice since that day in 1996.  Facebook can be a curse sometimes, but in circumstances like this, it is a blessing beyond belief!

So this morning, when I found out about her dad’s passing, I was surprised at how it affected me.  I just sat there and cried and cried, brokenhearted for her, her mom and her family. Pucek family I’ve experienced a lot of loss in life, and I’m always touched and have deep sympathies for the loved ones that are left behind, but this was different.  Maybe it’s because I’m dealing with my own aging parents and the health struggles they endure.  That is a reality my generation is now facing with our parents, aunts and uncles.  We don’t like to think about the losses that may be coming in our own lives, so it hits us harder when that reality is right in front of us.  But it is more than just that piece.  This loss affected someone incredibly important to me, with whom I have such a deep connection in my heart and spirit.  Someone whose friendship I have carried with me and inside my heart all these years.  This loss reminded me of something, and not just the truth of how painful loss can be.  It reminded me of how special and uplifting true connections of the heart can be.  It reminded me that when you love and care about someone, it transcends time, space, and circumstances.  It makes them a special kind of chosen family.  Our experiences with them shape our lives.  They open a vault in our memory in which these experiences are placed, and it lasts forever.  It preserves them forever.

Both Dawn and I have undoubtedly gone through many things in our lives that have been difficult to endure.  Difficult losses or the challenges that come with day to day living.  But you know what?  She is my friend.  In movie terms, she is my “Sandlot” friend, my “Stand By Me” friend.  And today, she and her family are grieving.  Today I weep and I grieve with them.  I honor the life of my dear friend’s father and lift prayers for the entire family and all the friends whose lives he (and they) have touched.

So today, I want to remind you all to take a few moments and open the vault that contains all the memories of those meaningful relationships and amazing friendships you’ve had over the course of your life.  If you are still in touch with them, remind them of how much they have meant to you and the difference they made in your life.  If you have no idea where they are or what ever happened to them, stop and send up positive thoughts and prayers of gratitude for their role in your world.

shutterstock_184599686The movie “Stand By Me” ends with the following words:  “It happens sometimes.  Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in restaurants. … I never had any friends later on like I the ones I had when I was twelve.  Jesus, does anyone?”

Much love and prayers for the Don Pucek family

And blessings to everyone.

Letting Go Instead Of Holding On

Tonight I am having a hard time getting my thoughts to “gel.”  There are pieces of creativity, phrases, melodies, images that are passing through my mind but none of them seem to rest long enough for me to make sense of them.  It’s like trying to catch the wind and hold it in your hands.  You can’t hold it; you can only feel it, and those two things are very different.  Holding something and feeling something require different things.  One requires energy and activity, while the other simply requires a willingness to be open.   One is achieved through effort and endurance, while the other is achieved through being still and present.   I know it may seem like I’m just rambling, but tonight, I feel a little entitled to do so.

It seems lately my life has been filled with different aspects of death and grief.  Some of it has been people I know who have lost loved ones.  Some of it has been the loss of people in my own world or people who have been seriously ill.  Today I attended the funeral of a cousin-in-law that I never met.  In doing so, I got to meet the rest of that branch of the family tree and immediately felt a connection to them.  I sat in the service, moved to tears both for the beauty of her life and the loss I felt in never having known her personally.   It made me remember all the losses I’ve had over the course of my own life.

shutterstock_3066153After the service, I went to another cemetery to pay my respects to someone I loved very dearly.  I hadn’t gone to this particular grave because it is quite a distance from my home, and I’m not one to hang out in cemeteries.  After all, burial places hold nothing more than the earthly shell of the people we love.  Today I was not too far from the final resting place of my loved one’s remains, so I felt compelled to make the trip.  Upon my arrival at the mausoleum, I searched and searched but to no avail.  I finally asked for help from the cemetery in locating my loved one.  It took much longer than I expected, and then the response hit me like a ton of bricks.  My loved one’s remains had been placed in a community crypt without any identification to the outside world.  It bothered me.  It sat in my heart like a lead weight as I stood in front of the unmarked crypt.  It hurt, and I struggled deeply with trying to square what I believe about death with what I was feeling at the moment.  That isn’t always an easy thing to do.

We all lose people we love at one point or another.  We feel the sting of death and the pain that comes with being separated from the physical presence of the ones we love.  We attend funerals and memorial services to honor their lives, and then we each find our own ways of navigating through the subsequent grief process.  I have found, no matter what the process looks like for each of us, there is one common thing we experience:  the struggle between holding on and letting go.  It seems to be an ebb and flow, but even after many years, we find ourselves still faced with moments of trying to decide when to hold on and when to let go.  When we lose someone we love, our instinct is to hold on.  We hold onto physical items such as clothing, gifts or other items that he/she touched, or things that smell like them.  Our longing for that person to still be with us makes us grasp at whatever we can to keep them here in some way.  We don’t just hold on, we cling.  We sometimes hold so tightly that our knuckles turn white and we lose feeling in our hands, and yet we still can’t find the strength to let go.  Letting go seems like it will only magnify our loss, and we will be left with nothing at all.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to hold on, but we must remember there are some things that just can’t be held.

Letting go usually comes with a sense of fear and apprehension for some people.  When we lose something, we naturally want to hold tighter to what we have left.  If we lose money, we tend to get tighter with what we have because it feels like if we don’t, we might lose it all.  We can become so hyper-focused on protecting our “stash” that we can no longer enjoy our lives.  The same is true with losing a loved one to death.  If we become so hyper-focused on protecting what remains of their lives here, we can become crippled and no longer enjoy our own lives.  Letting go is a process that occurs in stages, but we have to be careful to not mistake what it means to “let go.”  Letting go does NOT mean forgetting; It means loosening your grip.  Open ArmsRemember what I said about the wind in the opening paragraph?  You can feel it but you cannot hold it.  Think about standing somewhere beautiful and suddenly a perfect breeze comes blowing through.  You have two choices:  You can start grasping like crazy, trying to capture it in your hands, or you can stand still and experience its touch completely.   If your focus is on trying to hold it, all you will feel is the lack of being able to do so.  You will grasp tighter and quicker, but all you will feel is the emptiness of your own hands.  However, if you focus on standing still and opening your hands, you will feel nothing but the breeze itself.  Letting go is what enables you to feel!  Letting go is what enables you to remember.  Letting go is what frees you to be present.

Today was difficult, and the unexpected situation in which I found myself made it extremely difficult to keep from tightening my grasp after many years of loosening it.  The pain, anger, disgust and sadness that I felt standing in the corner of an empty mausoleum overcame me and brought me literally to my knees.  It crippled me physically and emotionally in a single moment.  I felt lost.  I suddenly felt like I had no footing.  Everything inside me was screaming as it was the day my loved one actually died, and I found myself unable to walk away from that spot.  My emotional hands closed tightly, and all I could do was sob.  And then I remembered what I believe.  I remembered what I know to be true, and slowly I started reconnecting the dots until I could pull myself away physically from that spot.  I stood with my hand on the wall and prayed.  I stood and talked to my loved one.  I knelt and kissed the wall of the tomb in which the remains were sealed, and then I walked out a different door because it was the only way I could make myself leave.

And then something wonderful happened.  I got my shorts out of the car and went back into the restroom inside the mausoleum to change out of my suit and into my comfy clothes for traveling back home.  I forgot to grab my other shoes, so I had to walk out in my shorts, athletic shirt and black knee high trouser socks.I had taken off my dress heels because I didn’t want to look THAT stupid, but I had to laugh at what I looked like.    All I needed was some sandals to complete my “old man” outfit.  I started for the exit, but then thought of how much my loved one would have found my appearance to be hysterical, so I turned and ran back into the mausoleum, into the hallway of the unmarked crypt.  I waited until the security guard walked away from the area and then leapt around, danced and laughed right there in that hallway.  I then whispered out loud, “I knew you’d get a kick out of that so that one is for you!  I love you. ” To some, that may seem inappropriate or even ridiculous, but for me, it was a reminder of the difference between holding on and letting go.

Loss of any kind is never easy, whether through death or some other means.  It is painful, and we scramble to protect whatever we have left.  But loss does not have to cripple us forever, and death is not the end.  Yes, it is excruciating at times.  It can be debilitating in those moments it hits us so hard we can hardly breathe, let alone function.  Grief does not have a timetable, and sometimes it jumps up and grabs us unexpectedly.  And when it does, we need to just step back, be still and open our hands instead of closing them into fists.  If it hurts, let it hurt.  If tears come, let them fall.  Whatever it is you feel, just take a breath and be still.  Open the hands of your spirit so that you can be touched, instead of grasping tightly to what you cannot contain.  Because in the end, the best way we can keep our loved ones with us is to let them go.

Blessings!

Get Out Of Other People’s Closets And Open Your Own

I recently read a Facebook post from someone I knew from church when I was younger.  We didn’t attend the same church, but we attended church camp and youth events together, and ran in pretty much the same circles.  It was a beautiful post from a beautiful person with a genuine heart for God.  Brandon Beene is my friend and I wish so much that we had gotten to know each other even better when we were younger because we share some very common struggles.   Another of Brandon’s friends shared the entirety of his post on his blog, and it was so impactful that I put a link to it at the bottom of this page because it’s worth reading, especially if you grew up in church.

Something that Brandon talked about in his post was the way he was bullied growing up, much of it coming from the fact he was not a masculine guy.  What Brandon doesn’t realize about me (or hasn’t until he reads this) is that I experienced many of the same things.  Maybe some weren’t to the same degree because I didn’t get beat up physically, but I got beat up in every other way.  shutterstock_184639775The bullying and teasing and humiliation I felt drove me to the point of standing on the edge of a bridge,  picking which car I was going to jump in front of in case the fall itself didn’t kill me.  I understand Brandon better than he probably could have ever dreamed.  We’ve shared very eerie similarities on the opposite side of the same issue.  First of all, I couldn’t agree more with what Brandon said.  His comments about love and what it should be are spot on.  I’ve often written about what love really is and what it means to truly love others.  I’ve written about what God’s love really looks like and how greatly we can affect this world if we would strive to love as God loves.  The problem with loving that way is that it often bothers or even offends most “religious” people today.  It also doesn’t sit well with people who are not religious but who consider themselves to be superior because of their own moral compass.   The interesting thing is that our problems are an epidemic that only genuine love itself can resolve.

Most of the people who are around me know I’ve never been a girly girl.  I don’t like cooking or sewing.  I don’t like pink.  I hate dolls.  I didn’t like to read love stories.  I didn’t like to watch sappy movies.  I liked watching the creature from the black lagoon, and my favorite author was Edgar Allan Poe.  I burned bugs with magnifying glasses.  I spent all my time outside playing football with the boys.   I participated in all kinds of sports and was good at them.   I even cried when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to play football in high school, because girls weren’t allowed on the team.  I got teased all the time because I was scrawny and gangly, and hadn’t developed physically.  I hate dresses.  I never wore them unless I was forced to.  There were some pastors I encountered that insisted women wear dresses or skirts, and all I could think was how miserable it made me in church.  When I was a kid, probably about 6 or 7, I told a friend at church that I actually WAS a boy.  She pretty much believed it until the day she told me to prove it, and of course I couldn’t and had to pony up to the truth.  My opinion of girls was that they weren’t strong.   They were concerned with makeup, hair, nails and shopping.  Blech!

I got teased and was the brunt of a lot of jokes.  I suffered privately and tried to find other tomboys with which to hang out.  I liked being rough and tumble.  I am glad that in this day and age, it is more acceptable for girls to be that way, but it wasn’t so in my generation.   I even got teased in my family for not cooking or not knowing how to cook.  The truth is that I can cook when I try, and the things I have cooked have turned out well, but I still don’t enjoy it. I go shopping, but I don’t like it.  Another thing Brandon mentioned was that he didn’t really like sports or know the rules of all the different types of sports and I thought, “I know the rules of all the different sports.  Heck, I even know the rules to curling!”  I love sports.  I watch them and play them, and would much rather hang out with a bunch of guys watching a game and having a great time than sitting around the kitchen table with the girls talking about “girly” things.

shutterstock_200320292Brandon also revealed in his post how he was called gay on many occasions and had to endure many times when he was called a fag or faggot.  It was painful to read his experiences.  While I do think that men and boys can be much harsher outwardly than girls with that kind of name-calling, the truth is girls are just as mean and brutal; they just do it behind your back.  Where Brandon had to deal with people calling him those names, I had to deal with the looks and snickering that people thought I didn’t see. I certainly felt the awkwardness of being excluded because I wasn’t a “normal” girl.  I got teased unmercifully for wanting to hunt with all of my cousins and uncles.  I didn’t get called gay or “dike” to my face, but I found out later it was going on all the time behind my back.  I even had an experience where I was called into my school counselor’s office because a friend (who I trusted completely and considered to be one of my closest friends) told a teacher that I was a lesbian.  I’m sure it came from the fact I wrote very expressive poems and writings all the time and shared them with the people I loved.  I loved everyone.  It didn’t matter if it was men or women, or from which walk of life they came.  Unfortunately, that was unacceptable to the people around me.

I would often write how I felt about my friends and my mother even warned me to be careful about what I said to people or wrote to people because they would start to think I was lesbian.  I ignored it and you know what?  It happened.  I really struggled in high school.  I think everyone does.  We struggle with figuring out our true selves.  We struggle with who we are and who we think we should be, and that struggle is made so much worse when we don’t fit the mold of what our family, friends, or religion thinks we should be.  We get sideways glances.  We get rejected.  I had one friend in high school who always understood me as much as anyone possibly could at that age.  She knew that I was just emotional and expressive and was not a girly girl…and she didn’t care one single bit!  I liked to dress odd and funny.  I was a little bit of everything and never really fit into one particular group.  But the rumors apparently continued, and have throughout my life.  Even now, I manage an exceptional team of people on the job and have been successful professionally.  One day a few years ago, we were sitting at the end of a meeting just visiting a bit, and I made a comment about being such a girly-girl and my team all laughed because they all knew I was the opposite.  The newest member of the team made the comment, “Oh, you don’t wanna know what I thought when I first met you.”  She went on to say she thought I was gay.  When I asked why, she said, “ I don’t know.  You just seemed that way.  You are always in a suit and the way you walk….”  I just laughed it off because the truth is I LOVE suits.  I wear them continually and I don’t carry myself in an extremely feminine manner.  I walk heavy.   I’m not one to sit around and say, “Oooooh…aaaah” when babies come into the office.  This woman told me it wasn’t until she saw me with my husband that she realized differently.  She said anyone who sees me with him would know I wasn’t gay.  But me by myself?  Apparently I still give it off.  And you know what?  I’m ok with that.  I had to get to the point where I didn’t care what anyone else thought or I would have to remain captive to their opinions forever.

shutterstock_266832950Brandon mentioned how he didn’t have a gender identity crisis.  I will echo that statement.  I didn’t/don’t have a gender identity issue.  I had a comfort issue.  I was uncomfortable because I didn’t fit in.  When I was small, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, but as I got older, I realized how rejected and judged I was by others.  I knew I was a girl but I didn’t like anything girls liked.  I never owned a Barbie.  To this day, I hate them.  I walk into something girly and just cringe.  I can’t stand baby showers or wedding showers.  I feel like a man when it comes to those things because I have the same reactions to them.  I’d rather do pretty much anything than spend hours at them. Over the years, I’ve had countless people tell me they thought I was a lesbian.  Of course, they never divulged that impression until they had known me a while and figured out I’m just me, that I’m just quirky…but it still hurt.  Feeling like you don’t fit in is one of the worst feelings in the world, and it can drive you to some very dark places.  When you add on top of everything else that I have a form of bipolar disorder, you can see how my brain chemistry issues complicated things for me.  It made me highly creative and highly connected and intense, but this world doesn’t understand that.

I mentioned earlier that I was constantly the brunt of jokes about my lack of traditional femininity.  It was a struggle when I tried to square what society expected me to be vs. who God created me to be.  It was so difficult that when a member of our high school choir touched me in  very inappropriate ways as we sat waiting to go on stage for a performances, I was frozen and didn’t know what to do because the wounded side of me thought, “Well maybe I am ok as a girl because at least I’m not unattractive to him.”  The vast majority of my boyfriends were guys who liked to hang out.  They weren’t terribly romantic and I was fine with it!  I liked to do the kind of stuff they liked to do.  I eventually married someone who is a man’s man but who loves me because I’m not such a girly-girl. He is the perfect partner for me because he loves me exactly as I am and actually embraces it.  He is a gift from God, himself.

I have friends of all walks of life, including friends who are openly gay or lesbian…and I love them dearly.  I love them because God created me to love people – all people – passionately…because HE loves them passionately.  I don’t have to agree with their politics, religion or choices in order to love and appreciate them.  It has nothing to do with that.  It has to do with loving people exactly where they are.  And maybe I’m even more passionate about that fact because it felt like it happened so rarely in my life.

shutterstock_153650339The truth is that God made me this way for a reason.  When Brandon said God doesn’t make mistakes, I couldn’t agree more.  I have said that for most of my life but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized God wired me this way for a reason because there are certain people out there that I can touch as a result.  As a matter of fact, there are some people out there that only we can touch because of who we are and the experiences of our specific individual lives.  We can reach people that others would have a hard time connecting with because they can’t understand their situation or personality.   I’m different.  I’ve always been different.  I’ve also been ridiculed and mocked for it.  I’ve been called all kinds of names for it.  I’ve almost died for it.   On the outside I may have looked like a fun, carefree, and well-liked person, but in my heart I struggled with many of the same things as Brandon did.  It is time for us to get over our fears and live exactly as we are created to be!  Stop judging each other.  Stop labeling each other.  Stop bullying people who aren’t like you and call it something else.  It doesn’t matter how we try to rationalize our behavior, it is still wrong.  Don’t say you are a Christian and then spend your time making the people around you feel less than you.  God doesn’t do that.  Jesus didn’t do that while here on earth, and He certainly doesn’t expect us to do it either!

It’s time to be who God called us to be, not who our parents, friends, bosses or churches are trying to call us to be.  I teach this to my Sunday school class all the time.  The things you like, you like for a reason.  The things that don’t interest you, don’t interest you for a reason.  God created us with our likes and dislikes because it’s those likes and dislikes that connect us with others in different ways.

So I’ll close with something that came up for me when Brandon said he can relate to the struggle of Caitlyn Jenner feeling like an outcast.  I thought to myself, “I can’t imagine any man wanting to give it up to become a woman and everything that is supposed to come with it.”  But I can sure identify with the same things about it with which Brandon identifies.  I can identify with hiding mental health issues.  I can identify with hiding suicidal tendencies or attempts.  I can identify with struggling to just be who we are and let God sort it out because NONE of us have a right to stomp on someone else.  Let me just add that Chaz Bono encountered a lot of the same things even though he wasn’t as well-known in his life as Chastity as Caitlyn Jenner was in his life as Bruce.  I could better identify with her struggles because they were closer to mine.  If I were a child today, raised in a more liberal home, I would be “pegged” as having a gender identity issue.  And  if I continually said that I was a boy or wanted to be one, I guess I could more easily become one.  But you know what would be a million times better than labeling a child (or adult) as having a gender identity issue?  It would be saying, “It’s ok that you don’t like all that girly (or boyish) stuff.  It’s ok that you want to do what you like to do.”  Maybe we should sit down with our kids, as well as with our adults who are still struggling and say, “It’s ok to not fit into what our society has defined you to be.  You just be who you were created to be because God loves you just exactly as you are.”

shutterstock_219355915It’s scary to think of how far left of center we have become.  We’ve started labeling people as one thing or another instead of looking within and seeing them as they are.  We have actually started crippling each other by embracing the new politically correct labels instead of dropping the labels all together.   It used to be a shame to be called gay, where now it is embraced by society.  Now it is a shame to be called other things.  In some circles it is a shame to be called a Christian.  It doesn’t matter what era of time we look at, there are always people who did not fit in, who were bullied and mistreated because of their differences.   Society and humanity is cruel because we are continually looking for labels to put people into boxes where we can look down on them and feel better about ourselves.  What an absolute contrast to what God does and what He has asked us to do.  We need to drop the labels and embrace each other.  It doesn’t always mean we will agree, but love goes so much deeper than differences.   It would be so much better if we just simply loved each other.  I realize with an imperfect world and imperfect people it will probably never be that way, but we can hope.  And we can, through the telling of our stories, change the individuals who can eventually change the world.

Blessings!

Brandon Beene Facebook Post

Michael Robison Blog of Brandon’s Post