Tuesday, November 20, 2012


2 : the course traveled from one place to another : route

My original plans were changed.  I had planned to visit my mom over fall break instead of braving the Thanksgiving traffic.  I had planned to actually take a fall break.  Then we moved.  And needed to take days off of schooling for that.  So we worked straight through fall break.  I had planned to teach Monday and Tuesday of this week.  Then I realized late last week that we (perhaps mostly I) desperately needed a true break, not some abbreviated-short week-jump in the car and drive six hours-drive back-resume normal life week.  So I scrapped the plan.

This meant that yesterday morning my slate was blessedly clear.  The only commitments were speech therapy, choir and ballet, none of which started until 2.  One thing I love about free days are the tangents I'm allowed to take.  I had a few things on the must do list (make sweet potato casserole, fold laundry), but when a friend mentioned El Camino de Santiago on Facebook, I decided to spend part of my morning watching a movie about this pilgrimage.  My daughter A joined me about a half hour into the journey and together we watched four broken souls seek solace, companionship and healing along the way.

The movie tells the story of a father (Martin Sheen) who receives a call that his son (Emilio Estevez) has died in an accident in Spain.  Stunned and devastated, he flies to retrieve the body.  While there, he decides to make the pilgrimage his son had started - a pilgrimage that has been traveled for more than a thousand years.  At some point during the movie, it struck me what a strong metaphor this movie is for life.  I want to arrive.  I want to be done with the pain, the uncertainty, the peeling back layers and layers of myself and waiting to reach who I am supposed to be.  I want to be there - wherever there is.

But the journey is what really matters.  Because the journey is what transforms us.  It's where we meet fellow pilgrims who have similarly blistered feet and who don't know exactly why they are walking but keep going anyway.  The journey is where we put one foot in front of the other and begin to slowly relinquish the illusion of control.  We may know where our next step will land us, but that is about it.

There are many ways to take the journey.  We can gripe and complain our way up the mountain, missing the vistas looming to our right and left.  This is just as true whether you're on an actual mountain or at the Kroger gas station. 

This afternoon, B and I stopped to fill the van up with gas before tomorrow's trek south.  She wanted a Sprite, so I went with her to the window to pay.  While she was counting out the correct change to pay the worker, a guy came up behind us and said, "I need a receipt for pump 2."  The worker very politely said, "I'll be right with you, as soon as I finish helping them."  The guy in line behind us proceeded to yell at the worker about how poorly the gas station was managed.  His grievances went on and on and his voice rose higher and higher.  "Awkward," B commented with the inflection only an eleven year old girl can give this word.  "I feel bad for him," she said more seriously.  Curious about whether her sympathies lie with the unsatisfied customer or the station attendant, I asked which one.  She went on to say she meant the worker.  "That's a job I'll never have," she said - which brought laughter and commiseration from me.

We spent part of the ride home talking about how the customer made the guy behind the window feel.  It's not a fun job this guy has - he sits in a little box for hours, helping people from behind glass.  It can't be pleasant.  But he was pleasant to us.  Patient with B as she counted out coins.  Wishing us a happy Thanksgiving even as someone else yelled at him.  Should the angry man have been able to get his receipt at the pump?  Perhaps.  Should he have been so unkind to the person in his path?  No.  B was right - it was awkward.  We all have the choice to be a fellow pilgrim who eases the way for others or one who makes the journey more laborious simply with our presence.

Each of the pilgrims in the movie were taking a pilgrimage for different reasons: to lose weight, give up smoking, cure his writer's block, mourn his son.  Yet those were only the surface reasons.  The real reason for each and every journey?  Healing.

No matter who you are and where you are journeying, that's what we all need.  Every single one of us.  Healing.  And we can't heal ourselves.  We can only listen to our bodies and souls, give them what we think they need - and wait for the Healer.

I would like say openly that this sucks.  I want it to be different.  I want a one time immunization against the pain of being human.  But it simply doesn't work that way.  And I am not willing to sit down and watch the other pilgrims pass me by.  People do that, you know.  They drop their backpacks on the side of the road and sit down, unwilling to move beyond their comfort zone, their particular addictions, their ways of coping, the things that anesthetize them.  They opt out of life.  And that is a choice we all have available to us.  Sometimes I even use that choice: I read an entire book on Friday.  It was classic numbing out.  But I don't really regret it and I'm not doing it every day, at the expense of my family and friends.  I want the healing, so I will keep walking. 

The way is not easy, but it is beautiful and so very worth it.  In recent days I have found the journey overwhelming.  So I've tried to picture Jesus walking alongside me as I go, pointing out the things worth seeing, holding my hand during the rocky parts, giving me a lift when the climbing gets hard.  Sometimes this helps. Other times, not so much.  I still feel alone.  But I want to even then look for the beauty that shows me the way.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


1 b (1) : to express thoughts, opinions, or feelings orally (2) : to extend a greeting (3) : to be friendly enough to engage in conversation

I read a blog post last week exhorting women to speak.  Moments after reading it in my Google reader, a friend e-mailed me a link to it.  I guess God was just underlining the point.  If that didn't get through, He conveniently arranged a fight between my husband and me about my inability/unwillingness/ineptitude at communicating my thoughts and actions, much less my wants and needs.

Speak?  About what, exactly?  What could I possibly have to say that others need to hear?

Speak?  And risk that I actually say something and someone listens?  Or doesn't listen?  Which would actually be worse?

Speak?  At the expense of listening?  Alongside it?  After it? Before it? How does this work?

Speak?  What words?  Comforting ones? Encouraging ones? Or the ones I don't even let my mind think, much less utter aloud?

I started this blog post a few hours ago, got as far as the title and decided I didn't have anything to say worth saying.  So I closed it up and went away.  Then my husband's frustration with me overflowed and as my eyes did the same, I became resigned to writing.  Sometimes God can feel like a bully.  He just won't let it go until I give up my own idea of who I am and step a tiny bit outside of my shell.

I had planned to write about this year's election.  About how it tore my heart wide open to see how divided we are as a country.  And how my torn-open heart led to no news, no NPR, no debates.  I could not bear it.  Instead I prayed.  About who to vote for.  Whether to vote.  About who I should and could be in a country so set on drawing lines between us and them.  Because if those are the only choices, I don't know where to stand.  I want to stand in the middle. With people who both agree with me and disagree with me, but who seek to find common ground and a place to start.

I've begun to think that the only way to really honor God come election time is with lots of prayer.  Not prayer for specific outcomes, but prayer for guidance - guidance on what issues make my heart leap with resonance or ache for resolution.  Because the way I want to vote is by praying and asking God to reveal my heart and then following that.  I think this could be the solution to our divided country: if every Christian prayed and asked God to reveal which particular issue was most important to them.  I believe we would each get answers as varied as we are - and the coming together of all of those things would be both healing and God-glorifying.  Like the Enneagram, which shows us the face of God in all the different ways He made us, our votes would reflect Him, too - by their diversity and variances.

Sadly, I don't see this happening anytime soon.  Because it would require that we not let others decide the issues and our positions for us.  It would require seeking to understand what God wants for us as individuals - and this would require a great deal of asking and listening.  Not to mention faith that we would actually hear an answer to our queries.

The day after the election, I sat down with my daughters and explained to them the issues that make my heart ache and my hand push the green vote button.  I told them there are others equally passionate about other issues - and that is good and right.  I hope they will always think before voting.  And I hope they'll be bolder in speaking up than their mother.

I hope they will retain the voices that are often raised inside the four walls of our home. I hope they will fight to know who they are and not flinch from seeing it revealed.  I hope they will speak.  I hope they will be spared the fear that their words don't matter, aren't worth hearing, should be buried and forgotten.  I hope they don't believe life is easier if they just shut up and go along.  And I fear for these hopes to be realized I must begin to model something very different. 

May I learn to speak kindly, lovingly, strongly, wrongly, at great cost and when I am most afraid.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


3 a : what one intends to do or bring about

I'm not sure exactly what I intended when I sat down yesterday to write about how heavy my heart has felt for the last two weeks.  I felt like God was leading me to put into words what I had been experiencing and I was trying to follow through on that.  I also was feeling very alone and thinking about others who might feel similarly alone.  One way I think the church routinely fails is in its care for those who are suffering.  That's largely borne from our own discomfort: we don't know what to say so we resort to platitudes or empty encouragement.  We don't intend to wound or add to the person's pain, but our words can hurt more than heal.  So I was thinking that if someone out there read my words and heard them as echoing some part of their own experience, that might be healing for them.

What I wasn't really thinking was that a lot of people would read my words.  Since it had been a while since my last post and many people are wrapped up in post-election celebration or mourning, I assumed the post would be read by a few loyal friends.  I didn't at all expect e-mails, texts or messages from friends and acquaintances encouraging me.  I didn't expect God to use my honesty to show me how many people love me. 

I don't use that word "love" lightly.  Several friends who contacted me yesterday specifically mentioned that I am loved.  This goes right to the heart of what I have been feeling.  I have (perhaps always) believed myself to be unlovable.  This is surely a result of my story and while I have tried to bury those feelings and move on, they are very much at the surface lately.  As a result of studying the Enneagram and realizing I am a nine, I have come to see recently why people enjoy being around me.  Nines are easy to be around.  As Russ Hudson said, "No one can hang out like a nine."  But there's a difference between being easy to be around and being loved.  Do people find my company easy?  I think so.  Does that mean they love me?  Not at all.

What God tried to show me yesterday through the responses to my blog post is that I am loved.  Person after person took the time to text me, e-mail me, message me.  I intended my post to perhaps someday comfort someone else.  God intended it to help heal me.  This is one of the crazy things about God.  I rarely know what he is up to.  I can't guess his intentions.  I can't anticipate his next move.  I can't even with certainty look back on past events in my life and know what I was meant to learn from them.   I think there are two things I can do: respond when I feel him prompting me and trust that he is who he says he is. 

The lessons God is trying to teach me right now are not easy lessons.  I think he and I are pretty well past the things that are easy to learn like the alphabet, reading, addition and subtraction.  Now we're on to reshaping the way I see myself, which is more like physics or graphing calculus equations on three axes.  So I don't expect an overnight change in myself.  What I do hope is that I will keep my eyes open to God's work and keep my heart willing to change, even when it is painful and scary.

If you were someone God prompted to contact me and encourage me yesterday, thank you.  I continue to feel fear and trepidation, but also hope.  Because perhaps God's intentions are kinder, gentler and more wonderful than I could ever imagine.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


2 : hard to bear; specifically : grievous, afflictive

It has been two and a half weeks since my last blog post.  It's not that I haven't thought about writing.  It's that I haven't know what to say.  I've wondered whether I have anything to say at all.  I've wondered whether what I am feeling is meant to be shared or kept.  But two posts that I read yesterday felt like a nudge to at least attempt to find words for what I've been feeling and experiencing.  The first post was by a friend and simply shared a profoundly convicting Madeline L'Engle quote - a quote that made me feel like I should at least try to find words.  The second, which I read immediately after the first in my Google reader, made me see just how much fear has been crippling me in every aspect of my life lately.

I don't know that I've ever felt as far from God as I have in recent days.  I've tried to pray and wondered whether he hears me at all - or whether he hears me and delights in ignoring me, taunting me, manipulating me.  I've questioned his love for me and offered prayers along the lines of, "I know you may not love me, but if you love X, please give her rest.  I know she needs it."

I have felt a gaping emptiness inside me - a loneliness that is almost too much to bear.  I've started, from force of habit, to pray and then realized I am afraid of this God I am praying to.  I've imagined myself in a closet, hiding from Jesus on the other side of the door.  I have closed my eyes and seen God place hot coals into my open hands.

Perhaps saying that I am in a bleak and desolate place doesn't quite do it justice?

Last Thursday, my husband and I went for our monthly couples spiritual direction group.  After I shared my thoughts, feelings and fears - thoughts of abandonment, feelings of being unlovable, fears of being drawn in by a God who only wants to hurt me - my spiritual director encouraged me to close my eyes and pray in the name of Jesus against the lies I was believing.  I told her they didn't feel like lies.  She told me this was a time to not believe what I was feeling, but to cling to what I know rationally to be true.

I have felt better, but not well, since then.  I have begun to close my mind to the terrorizing thoughts that my friends and family only spend time with me because I do things for them.  I have tried to turn away the idea that there is something very wrong with me - at the core of who I am - and that God knows that better than anyone.

Tears come easily these days.  I am weak, tired and weary of feeling this way.  This weekend I will go on a silent retreat I scheduled nearly a year ago.  I am only a bit this side of terrified.  Whether I am more scared of what God might say or that he might not say anything at all is indeterminable.

Despite all of this, I am trying to find my way back.  I saw those two blog posts as a prompting from God to write.  So I am writing - in a disjointed, meandering, perhaps unintelligible way - but writing nonetheless.  I believe there is purpose in my past and current sufferings.  This does not actually make it any easier to bear, but I do believe it.  And that loneliness that I feel without the presence of God is not something I want to experience as my new normal.  So I will plod along, hoping for a lightness to return to me when I feel ever so heavy inside.