Friday, December 2, 2016

An Unexpected Lesson in Love

Bird, by Anastasia Bibawy
 A Black Friday find at The Limited - $5! How could we not?

She smiles at me, and my heartbeat skips. She doesn’t have to say she loves me. She doesn’t have to say anything at all. She’s just amazing, and I’m in awe of her. Her deep brown eyes look right into mine and hold my gaze.  She’s beautiful and adorable. She constantly cracks me up with her silly and witty ways - one minute sweet and girlish, the next tough and spunky. I want to be just like her. When she grabs my hand and holds it, I silently beg her not to let go. There are times when I think she knows me more than I know myself.

She loves me. It’s hard to believe I could be loved like that, that my little dress-up-loving girl is not going to change her mind one of these days. It’s painfully hard. I’d turn down a box of diamonds for this… for the rock solid belief that I’m good enough to keep around. If I could just believe it, if not for my sake, for hers...

The Thanksgiving sun’s rays beat through my bare window onto me and every corner in the room. Can anything hide in that light? Can I hide in love’s light? Real love uncovers stored up lies nursed over a whole long lifetime. It exposes the icy boulder that blocks the workings of that love.   

What is real love? The shocker is that it needs taking as much as giving. It has to, because real love can’t reject. But the flowing waters of give-and-take hardened to a frozen block in the quarter-century-long winter of my life. 

It can be just as hard to take love as it is to give it.

This little girl grins silly at me, almost winking, "Mommy, I love you way more than you love me.”  Can a seven-year-old possibly be struggling with this too? Is it more common than we realize - the hesitancy of accepting love? the fear of trusting it?

“Not possible, Cupcake. I've loved you since you were born, since before you even met me!” 

“Nope,” she chirps. “Doesn’t matter, I still love you more. End of discussion!” 

We do this everyday, and she usually gets the upper hand of the banter. But at such a young age, does she need to self-protect? Does she (and I) find it so hard to believe love is returned equally? Does she really not believe that I love her just as much, no, way more?

As I wrestle with this and curse my relentless habit of overthinking everything, she fixes her almond eyes on mine, exposing me. "I love you more than anything, Mommy.” It’s hard to believe I could be loved like that.

Back teeth grinding, I tell myself to shut up and just believe it. 

I loved my mother like that. Somewhere in the yellowed 70s' photos, she loved her children. But somewhere along the way, she changed her mind. Well, her mind changed her. A chemical imbalance will do that. It warped and complicated her beautiful mind. And though her love for us might not have vanished, it was masked and became excruciatingly hard to see. And somewhere along the way, I wore the belief that I am unlovable.

For my daughter's sake, I need to believe her instead. 

How do you get to believing the one thing that could change your life when all your life you were told the opposite? How do you get to believing you’re loved unconditionally now when back then you just weren’t?

Sometimes I get surprise messages from heaven at exactly the right time and the right place. And that’s wonderful. But sometimes I need to draw near. I need to bang on the door. 

So I opened the Bible and found this about being loved…
  • ...As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved… Colossians 3:12
  • For God so loved the world… John 3:16
  • So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us… 1 John 4: (13-21)
  • I will seek him whom my soul loves.. Song of Solomon 3: (1-11)
  • See what great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. 1 John 3:1
  • I will call them “my people” who are not my people and I will call her “my loved one” who is not my loved one…  Romans 9:25 
In my need to overthink everything, I forget everything that really matters. He has always loved me… more.  More than my mother, father, sister, brother, husband, children, close friends love me,  He loves me most. Yes, I needed my mother to love me better than she did, and I need to love my family and friends better than I have. I need to believe they love me. The relationship will even sweeten if I let them love me. But it won’t happen by gritting my teeth.

It's a matter of brave, gritty trust.

The truth? Loving Him most gets me believing in other people's love. Even my mother’s! His love melts the thick iceberg of confusion and doubt. It makes everything and everyone make sense. It says, I'll do what you say (1 John 5:2-3), I'll talk to You (Jonah 2:7), I'll trust You, (so many on this, but my favorite Isaiah 26:3), I’ll love You with all my heart, soul and mind. I’ll love You most. Isn’t that what He’s always asked for?

And He replies, "I loved you first. I love you more." We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) I have every reason to trust it and no reason not to. Trust.

Amelia and I can debate about it till we're blue, but she has to know and trust this one thing. Of all people, He loves her more. He loves her most.

Loving Him most is what will get me believing in people's love… and will get me taking it.

It’s illogical but couldn’t be truer. The more I love Him, the more I can believe you love me and let you do so. Isn't He the original Love, perfect, eternal love? The whole idea came from Him anyway.

So because I love Him, I can believe you. It'll be breathtakingly beautiful the day I believe you when you tell me you've got some love for me - 

and I take it.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Story

 I don't usually write fiction, but this is a brief attempt. It evolved slowly but lucidly. 

An Angel, Her Garden and Me

An angel came to the door. She knocked, tilted her head to the side and said, "Hello, my darling girl, can we be friends?”
Her smile, warm, sweet and true compelled me to throw open the door to my house and heart. I clasped her hand and showed her every room. I thought she might like the moon outside my window, so we lingered there a while. 

Sitting by the fire under the sky, she asked, “It’s perfect right here. Do you sit out here a lot? I would every day!”

I longed with an ache to show her my breathtaking gardens with one thousand playful, graceful flowers of hundreds of kinds, because I suspected she’d feel at home in such a spot. But they only existed in my head, so I played her a song instead.

She watched me and listened intently as I tried to forget she was there so I could play well. She was distracting me with a smile that seemed just for me. She loved my song. She might have even loved me.

I swallowed the flood of tears before they seeped out. She squeezed a hale arm around me. "I know you're teary and glum. Come to my garden, where I dance and play and where you will too. You can be silly, sad or still, and still I'll think you're beautiful."

Me, beautiful? 

Striking beauty illuminated her golden face. Her flowing hair reflected all the colors of lily, poppy, sunflower, delphinium and rose. 

We held hands and walked and walked under the sky. We laughed and cried together and there were no hours, just one precious moment after another crystalizing into a myriad of memories that no one will ever steal.

How she found me, I don't know. Dare I hope? Somehow she really knew me. She must have loved me.

Though I had only just met her, I felt that I was only hers and that she was only mine. I thought we could live in this little paradise forever and that I'd get used to her smile. But neither happened. I thought our love, hers of gold and mine of silver, was the garden key that we would hide in a secret place and later forget. I thought we would sparkle together forever. 

But it was not to be so. 

"I must leave now," said she, and I grope for words and air.

"But you just came. We've only just begun," I protested, my thoughts scrambled to form something more convincing.

"I have other gardens," she confessed with a wink and a smile. "But I'll never forget you. You're my darling girl. I'll always love you."

"Other gardens?" I pine each minute for her to stay just one more. Of course. She could claim as many as the stars.

"This one is yours. Draw many here. Let them see your smile and feel the warmth of your love. Here, let them feel joy in any weather, under any sky. Your joy will never leave you because you have too much to live for, and most of all, you've discovered true love.  And all is well.  All is well! Farewell, dear one!"

We embraced, and, as we pulled apart, she smiled wide, cupped my face in her hands and peered into my eyes with hers, deep and clear.  She kissed my cheek and was gone. 

I found myself in our spot under the moon by the fire where we had been sitting before. The night seemed colder and the sky darker. But I'd drum it till I was blue if I had to. All is well. All is well. 

And in the breeze I heard a hum that sounded like her singing,

I know you can do what you want to do
  be who you want to be.
You must know it too. 
Do you see what I see?
I believe in you!

Friday, November 4, 2016

I Can't Wait to Love You: When I Showed My Mother to a Friend

Numerous autumns have had me claiming that there's little more amazing than the majesty of rich color, deep and mellow, like sun rays spilling through stained glass in a cathedral - fall's rainbow.

But recently another amazing thing happened. I showed my mother to a friend.

It was her idea, and I didn't like it. And I told her so several times.

But when the people you love, including your friend, confidently agree and gently urge, you need to realize you're not always going to be right.

I decided to trust her... and husband, counselor, brother and daughter...

It's going to be fine, they said. It's a good idea. It will be good for you.

So with a million knots twisting my entrails, we pulled up to the nursing home and parked. "Are you sure you want to do this?" She knew I was begging her to say no.

She was sure, but I was not.

The week earlier, I had told my friend all about Mom. I had splattered all over the table the dreaded words and technical terms like schizophrenia, paranoia, anger, fear, conditional love. She might have headed for the door.

I watched her eyes as I described the running 40-year-old mom scenario that I know so well.

"You might enter her delusions because you're my friend." I felt as if I should be whispering like in the old days. "Then she'll believe you're dangerous and never allow you in her presence again.

"Then you'll walk out, like the others did, and we'll be done."

I know it too well. Same old pattern, same old tragedy, written on page after page of my life story, turned slowly, quietly, unnoticed. It seems like a million friends were lost to me because either Mom had stolen them away with her madness or I had pushed them away with my fear. So I had stopped ages ago allowing friends to see my mother.

By the morning of this planned 15-minute visit, a million knots coagulated in me - one for every soul I had pushed away over 25 some years, including the one sitting in my passenger seat, who was not about to be pushed away or anywhere.

"You'll still be you," she said. "It doesn't matter what she thinks of me. You'll still be the same to me."

So my friend and I and my million knots rode the elevator to the second floor, knocked on the door, and I held my breath.

"Mom, this is my friend Mollie. Mollie, this is Violette..." The words ran together into one syllable.

The three of us smiled, laughed and talked about Zumba for twenty minutes, and twenty times I told myself to let Mom see our friendship. Twenty times I silently commanded myself to let her see, stop being so scared. Every minute my brain yelled, Be yourself. Let her see you have good friends despite everything. No more hiding.

There's no way of knowing how she feels about me having a solid relationship with a girlfriend. She didn't handle well my friends in the past. No one is safe from the invisible unflinching grip of her paranoid delusions. No friend of mine is immune to entering the muddled mess of her mind where reality and illusion collide.

But a few knots came undone as we walked out.

"We're still friends, let's go get lunch," my friend confirmed. I want to believe history will not repeat, that Mollie will not be affected by scary mental illness or change her mind when everything sinks in. Then it hit me like clouds parting and November sunshine bursting through the windows.

It doesn't matter. Though Mollie was meant and willing to help me break free of fear's grip, there will be others who won't be as comfortable. It's okay. They won't break my heart because a heart already broken can't help but let the light in.

When a heart breaks, light seeps through the cracks, and the hidden things can come up into the open. The fears fizzle. I hid my mother and hid shame, abandonment, rejection, lies about me. But I also hid my true feelings. I hid my love, because I didn't believe it was real. I believed it was like hers.

I showed my mother, brought her out to be seen for who she is and it all broke out of hiding, loosened from my grip everything, including myself. Now I can see myself, and I can be seen. I can loosen the rest of the knots in my stomach and thank my friend a million times for stirring up the unraveling. I can loosen the fears and let love loose.

The cracks of my broken heart leaked in light, exposing everything that matters. Now I can see my love was real all along. Every tight knot coming undone sets me free to love a person - one person for every knot.

To all you million people coming my way, I can't wait to love you.

Friday, October 28, 2016

When You Have a Fire on Your Hands: Fire and Truth

"Do we hold hands enough?" I ask slowly at the table. I can't remember a time when me and my mother held hands, and I'm kind of wincing about it now.

The two older ones look confused at first. But then my almost-adult daughter flashes a very sly smile. "Not really into that actually, you understand..."

The budding teen who noticed it first smiles warmly, "You don't have to worry..."

"Don't worry Mommy, you do." Little one grabs my hand and squeezes.  Nuzzling my cheek, she says, "So you won't be sad, Mommy." 

They know the sadness I've been staring straight in the eye in this climb of the last two years. They know it hasn't been easy, and it hasn't been their fault, and it hasn't been mine or even my mother's. 

But it was nasty then, and I thought it should be tucked in the dark and stay there forever.

The sky is already black before the fire quietly roars up, and the marshmellows, chocolate and graham crackers are readied. The warm glow from the fire shines on us and reveals her lounging sideways on the folding lawn chair with her eyes peering up. Thousands of stars this cool night adorn the moonlit canvas like silver sequins on a black dress.

This child hates attention and hides everything including her face from the camera. Sometimes her deep eyes match her deep thoughts and their meanings vibrate like the fire. But she'd rather keep those secret. She fights her own fire of inner changes, confusion, boredom, easily annoyed, the growing pains. 

And when the firelight shines on her face, everyone can see it. In her element, she's happy.

Someone cracks a joke and she smiles wide, and it's going to be okay, because the truth is out. When the struggle is pushed out into the light, it loses its grip. Someone can help you. Someone can show you another way.

Casting light on the truth about the inner chaos sets you free and you can let yourself be loved, because now someone can really know you. They can love the real you. The truth sets you free.

When the firelight of love and truth was thrown on the darkness of my fears, I could see it all like never before:  rejection, disapproval, suspicion, guilt, shame. I nursed them for half my lifetime in the dark. But Love's fire came down all over these prized possessions and showed me a thing or two. 

Don't we all have a fire or two to extinguish? Giant and tiny, public and private, spoken or unspoken, they flame up everyday, no?  The real question is what is the extinguisher made of?  In the good moments, quiet talks and gentle phrases pour over hot tempers and scowling faces like sweet, cool water.

In my crappy moments, my own hot temper feeds the fire like a gas line. A warm smile quiets a fire in our house. An angry frown or sarcastic smirk sets it blazing. When we slow down and talk about it, the cool current of patience reveals the root of the problem. We find out what sparked it and can figure out how to solve it.

We find the truth of it so it can be fixed. We can love, be loved and be healed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

When You Have a Fire on Your Hands: Fire and Love

Everyday at home, fires are aflame, sparked not by a match, but by a harsh word, a bad mood, or plain old forgetfulness. And everyday, my children have a fight on their hands, and so do I.

"Stop taking my stuff!" "You're so mean!" "What did I do?" "You started it." "Stop bossing me around!" "I don't care." "Go away, leave me alone!" "Stop laughing at me!" "I'm not laughing at you!"

How funny I said when I was childless that my kids would never do this. I just need to turn this around, and I never learned how. So I yell at them to stop yelling at each other. And there's my own fight.

Shame, shyness, insecurity, pride are the fear fires that prevent me from pouring unlimited love all over the people in my life. My fear fires are burning a hole right through me.

I need to turn this around. When Love came down to my level and died for me, that first fire was sparked. I need to fan those love flames.

If we knew the fire burning inside of each person, wouldn't we love them with a heat of love that blazes hotter? 

Couldn't we love them with a fiery Spirit-driven love that soothes the burn? What if we could fire up love instead of hate on everyone? Yes, everyone.

There are weeks when it's almost everyone around me that's fire-fighting.  

My friend gave her heart to a man who forgot to mention he was committed to another. Another thinks the right one will never come. And one other is watching her best friend die. 

One evacuated her town to escape Hurricane Matthew not knowing what she'll come home to when it's all over. 

What I'd do to just blast a hose on every single fire so the burning stops. So it doesn't burn a hole right through their hearts and homes. 

I can't hose down their fires, but I can show up. I can stop yelling at my kids. I can meet them and my friends where they are. I can tell them it's going to be okay. I can hold their hand. I can hold them.

And if I keep fanning those flames, hotter and hotter, I can hold you, too.

Friday, September 23, 2016

When You Want to Drown Out the Loud Lies and Move

I literally flutter inside. This thing stirs me more than anything... dancing to Zumba music. 

We turn, spin, jump, wave arms, to the left, to the right, machete, slow down to two-step cumbia, march to a meringue, slide to a salsa, moving with the instructor and with each other, but not exactly the same, because we're each unique. We're made different, so we dance different. But we're dancing together

Even my brain gets the work out of a lifetime.  The rhythmic moves rearrange the complicated pattern of my thoughts from left to right, from negative to positive, from lies to truths. 

When you think lies loud in your head, that you're not worth much, that you're a failure, you're too weak, too fat, too skinny, too dumb, too boring, too slow...

too worldly, too religious, too unimportant, too disorganized, too unhealthy, too sensitive, too insensitive, too loud, too quiet...

You can't move. Lies don't flutter, they sit and fester. Believing you can't do anything worth a lick weighs you down like an elephant sitting on you... like that girl in the sixth grade, Jean, who bullied me into tying her shoes.

She was loud. Her buddies huddled around.

"Do it!" she sneered.

"Do what?" I sneered back.

"Tie my shoe!" she yelled. "You better do it now!" she threatened empty.

Her voice was crashing thunder pressing down all over my 11-year-old self till next thing I knew I was in squatting position. The thundering voice on my head might as well have been her shoe, but I was tying it.

For 30 some years after that I didn't move. I couldn't get out from under the cruel piercing voices - the mean teachers, the kid bullies, my mother, my uncle. When it's loud, it's hard to hear anything else, so you finally just believe it. Something good might have been said to me during those raucous days, but if so, I can't remember.

So I stayed under that shoe for a long time, long enough to believe it's where I belong.

It's these random incidents from past that have been popping up lately like a freaky Jack-in-the-box that make me want to find a hideaway and stay there till everyone forgets about me. I want to tell everyone to go away. I want to disappear under my thick gray blanket on the gray couch in the dark quiet family room.

But because God knows it all, He never fails to show me just the words I need to hear from caring friends, prayer, Bible reading, social media posts or just the right song. I think He doesn't want me to go away though I do. 

They play the Latin-flavored music loud. Walking in the classroom, it's already on, and I will it to drown out all the day's bad thoughts and stresses. It obeys me.

I turn in my little shell like I spin on a Zumba floor to spirited tunes. The music is kinetic, explosive, powerful enough to shake the soul fibers. I shake to the music and shake out all the lies that bully my thoughts. I shake that sixth-grade girl's shoe off my head. Now I'm moving.

When we dance-exercise, we work hard to sweat out physical and mental toxins. The loud music drowns out the rest of the world to help do that. So we dance loud, and the lies shut up. Instead of me, they do the hiding away while I dance.

While I move and heal.

pc: Dan Bangert

pc: Dan Bangert

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Go Be Brave

"What are these white things on the caterpillar?" "Why is a penny bigger than a dime?" "When are the trees going to turn red?" "Why isn't Scotland on this map?" "Why didn't they believe Copernicus?" "How distant do cousins have to be to marry?" "Why do doctors help people die?"

The real questions happen right here. They come quick, questions I knew someday they'd ask and wouldn't have the answers to. Their wondering eyes on me wait.

On this journey going on 11 years, we've all been learning together. We never claimed we knew all the answers but that we'd finds them together. Because do we ever have all the answers? Don't the long days tug our shirts  with more questions?

"The trees will turn real soon now because it's cooling down," I assure. "It's hard to change something you've believed for so long," I attempt.

Sometimes the answers are questions... Is Scotland ready to separate? What did the people and the church believe about the stars back then? What is the definition death?

They want answers to their questions. But we don't homeschool them to spoon feed facts, figures and formulas. We teach them to ask more questions. Go deeper, do the hard thing if needed. Asking the hard questions when you're afraid to look dumb or you're afraid of the answer is doing the brave thing.

Bravery is what we need to take God's outstretched hand and go where He'd have us go.

He doesn't want to hear "not me, I'm not good enough, I don't know, it's too hard, too complicated, too much work." Take His hand. He's waiting to help. A universe-creator, what can He do? Everything! There's nothing He can't do, but we need to trust and bravely go to that new place, learn that new subject, talk to that new person. Go where you've never gone before.

Her glove-ridden hands pick up the apple-green caterpillar we found on the tomato branch and drop it in the net. "I did it!" says she, breathing out relief. "Now, let me get her some food!" still breathless as she skips off.
I can't make them brave. But I can show them bravery. I can try doing a thing I've never done. I can do a hard thing, a scary thing.

The oldest ran off to a faraway place this summer and came back beaming and desperate to turn around and go right back. It's so much easier when you're younger. She didn't know a word of Spanish as she fell in love with little and big Bolivians. She'd never even been on a plane except when she was four. They couldn't drink the water, or eat much of the fruit or fresh vegetables. The air was a beast of heat, but the hardest thing for her? Choosing not to photobomb every gathering pose with the team and her new besties.

She chose instead to get behind the camera.

Sometimes bravery is only a matter of humility.

And sometimes the questions are heartbreaking.

"Will they like me when I get there?" "Why are they so poor?" "How can they be so content and so poor at the same time?" "Why do they climb the roof?" "How do you say, 'I'll miss you?'" "When can I go back?"

Land borders and euthanasia beg answers and even more questions that will be answered by the stories, like those Juliana's still telling about her mission trip. Her stories spur on more questions. And one way or another the answers materialize into a new study, a new mission, a new goal, a new hope, a new self-discovery, a new love. It's always new. Didn't He make all things new, and we are His, so we get used to the change that new adventures bring. Then it's not so scary to go try something for the first time.

Be brave this school year, little ones, ask a sky full of questions, try something new... and go!