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!

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Truth and the Chrysalis

On a chilly November day, Zumba music summoned me into a room full of strangers when I didn't do strangers.

I was a stranger, an unknown. I had to be because if people really knew the truth about me they would eventually walk out, decide I was too weird, boring, ugly. This was me, I decided somewhere in a Baptist school in sixth grade - that I wasn't pretty enough, white enough, normal enough, cool enough, funny enough, talented enough.

I wasn't enough, so I'd be a stranger and better off unnoticed.

If I stayed hidden in the woodwork, I'd be safe from the teasing and bullying, and from the smiles, fake and real. (I couldn't tell the difference.) There is no risk when you go unnoticed.

Caterpillars camouflage themselves to self-protect. They blend with their environment to go unnoticed and be safe from predators.

For the decades after those cold years in the Baptist school and later in high school, I decided I was going to play it safe. I'd be silent and blend in. If I couldn't fit in then I'd blend in to invisibleness.

No one would hurt me again because no one would see me. No one would really know me. I would not stick out like a sore thumb anymore because I would not be noticed.

Frumpy clothes and a frumpy attitude would keep me out of people's hearts. I wouldn't tell them how I really felt about them - that I love them. No risk-taking, wave-making, heart-moving, heart-melting.

"I see no one, and no one sees me," says Colin in The Secret Garden.

They would not get into my heart - they wouldn't. They would not break it. No one ever would again.

I gave my mother my heart, and she broke it.

"Stop crying!" she'd scream.
"Lazy girl, do it/get it yourself, liar... get out of here, dog." (It sounds even worse in Arabic)
"You may not go with her anywhere, and she will not enter this house again," she'd sentence. "She's not really your friend."
"Why can't you be empathetic like your sister? Oh, how I love her so, poor innocent baby!" she'd wail.
"Why don't you get a big house like your cousin?"
"You're just like your father."

I wasn't going to do this. I wasn't going to tell you the truth. It's too painful. You'll think I'm pitiful. You won't believe me. You'll believe my mother. You'll walk out.

And you'll break my heart. No.

I wasn't going to tell you the truth about my mother. If you knew about her - the mental craziness, her raving madness, her schizophrenia, her paranoid delusions, that if she met you, a friend of mine,  you'd enter into her delusions and she'd think you're dangerous and never allow you in her presence again.

It's too weird, just too much, and you'd just walk out. And you'd break my heart.

Please don't walk out. I am not her, a silent cry muttered in my mind a thousand times.

Caterpillars sometimes crawl up under the leaf instead of atop to feed so the birds high in the trees can't see them. If I could just believe you won't leave even after knowing the truth about me, I could get out from under my safe, comfortable spot under the leaf. I could let you see my true colors and even fly. We could fly together, maybe like we were meant to?

But the next step toward that glorious dream is time in the chrysalis. And that's where Zumba and the room of strangers comes in.

When I first walked into the classroom, I held my breath - literally. I saw only women. Damn. Carefully and purposely not looking at anyone, I sped to the back wall. It was the girls and their mothers including my own that hurt the kid me the most. Not this time. I'd fumble around behind them where they wouldn't see me, so they wouldn't laugh me out of there.

I would not be seen, I willed. I'd just get a workout with this fun music and disappear before anyone noticed I was ever in the room.

Those were my true thoughts exactly. I remember because they were the same ones that replayed like a soft tidal rumble in any new situation for 25 years since high school. But ten minutes in and I began to wonder if the smiles around me were real. I hadn't wondered a thing like that in years. I had always assumed they weren't. Paranoia's influence.

But they just kept smiling at me for a year and a half.

"We're family," they said, while fixing my posture, subtly correcting my poor form, dancing right alongside me and up close only when comfortable.
"Relax, release the day's stress, have fun."
"No judging."
"You don't have to, but if you want to learn the moves, we'll teach you."
"We care."

Wait. Care about what? Oh, the people who come to class. Right.

This was an attentiveness and nurturing I had never known. So I was blissful and bitter all at once. Over the moon over Zumba class and devastated over what I was supposed to experience as a little girl and never did - nurturing, gentleness, kindness, attention, caring, affection. I didn't know how much I intensely like those things and how much I needed them.

I realize now that when I first walked into that room with the Zumba people, then strangers, now cherished friends, I had walked into my chrysalis.

(More later.)


Friday, April 15, 2016

An April Sky & Lent: When You Pray for a Friend

The snow flakes fell from an April sky the other day. Large, copious and quiet. The Good Life devotional pointed to the lost sheep and lost coin parables, and I pointed sad eyes to that sky.

Because this nudging to pray for someone just won’t stop. It’s been a year, and I still feel it. Her face in my head, I love her, and I’m just not sure if she clings to the Shepherd... or if she’s happy enough, so I pray for her just in case. Feeling silly, I picture her lost like a lamb, and my heart breaks. Draw her near, Lord, I say, hem her in from the front and round the back. I want to see her up there…

The snow kept whirling around, falling light and graceful, gentle, barely brushing the grass blades greened by early spring. That’s just how Your love is - gentle, grace-filled, surprising, beautiful, pure, white, all over the place. And You can just do that to a soul, pour out giant fluffy dew drops of mercy and kindness all over us, a soul comes clean and, “there’s more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:7.

Heaven’s angels celebrate.

And I know once again, it’s me too that needs a good wash.

So during Lent we hold a fast, hold in our desires and whims and hold out for the hope. Because it’s not all for nothing. While we quiet our stomachs, we pray in a room and quiet our minds. While we seek Him a little more this time, we ask Him to fill up our shriveling souls that feel empty, hearts on edge about more than a few things, hearts that ache over loves lost, loves rejected, loves that never happened.

It’s the way a soul forgets daily but remembers once in a prayer that He is enough. He fills the emptiness. He heals, and we just need to hurt. And I know it’s me that needs a good healing. It’s through that hurt that I can finally heal. He’s it. Only He can do it, not those I lost, or those I wanted and never really had.

Maybe the sadness lingers, but heaven’s singers are making it known in it’s fanciest corners that a broken humbled soul bowed low was heard and not only, but was forgiven and embraced and not only, but was sung over. (Zephaniah 3:17) Not only for me but for my friend.

The ground, already heated a little while ago from a few days of unseasonable warmth, melted the giant snow puffs right when they hit. I watched them disappear just like our wrongs do in a heat of a prayer, a tear-ridden sorry, a trembling faith.

Goodbye wintry sky. Spring is on the wing, and so is my soul.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Girl's Beauty

March teases my skin with a little warmth, and it's a day of breezes, and wind eases through the air and our kitchen window. This girl of mine, with the giant eyes that notice everything, head dropped on my shoulder, pleads,  "Can we have a fire in the back? It's so nice out."

This girl, who understands deeper than any 12-year-old ought to and reads in and out of books faster than anybody ought to, peeks at the mirror and quips, not pretty... and... you're just saying that because you're my mom

Not so fast.  I stare into her eyes locking them with mine and quip back the obvious, "You're beautiful, and it's not because I'm your mom." It's my turn to plead... "You're even more beautiful with the braces and eye glasses because it's you, and we wouldn't want you any other way. Your beauty comes from inside…" I go on and on, and is she even hearing me? Does she believe me?

She doesn't know that a girl's glow comes from inside her. The glow from the fire is warm, bright, constantly moving, like her. The Spirit-fire inside her - that's what she needs. And she already has it. 

Fire illumines and cleanses. But in order to get your fire you have to burn something. Then… fall the ashes. And that’s when you get the beauty.

That’s when you become beautiful.

I stare at the fire. It's not just her. It's me too, and I know what needs to be done. But I don’t know if I can do it.

To spark a bonfire blaze, a dazzling dance of firelight, dry wood needs to be burned. To be this dazzling dance of firelight, I need to burn the fears, insecurities, guilt, perfectionism, hopelessness. 

And the more those freedom-stealing, spirit-withering, soul-shrinking things are burned, the bigger the flame, the brighter the light, the quicker the flicker, the cozier the room. Every single soul that comes close will be warmer and happier.

That’s the real beauty - beauty from the ashes.

Beauty that doesn't fade with the Spirit-fire.

Gazing at the fluttering light that penetrates her giant eyes, she coos, “It’s so beautiful, Mommy.” 

Just like you, darling.

Monday, January 11, 2016

When You Want a Sister

Hollywood Studios is, as are the other Disney parks, a furor of imagination.

The world of movies is an escape to somewhere exciting, haunting, old, new, real and magical.

The thing about the storylines, like Frozen's, is that the outer layer is fanciful, but the deeper themes are ever so real.

Like the theme of sisterhood.

A girl doesn’t always remember meeting her sister for the first time. She was always there far as she’s concerned. And a girl assumes safety, familiarity and even delight in the arms of her sister - unless those nice things are snatched away when the tender shoots of that kinship are just sprouted, have just taken form and presumed the right to grow strong and sure a good long while.

Elsa and Anna are like my sister and I. We were in a way separated. Missing was the emotional nurturing. Mom could only really love one of us at a time it seems in hindsight. We just didn’t have the chance, the permission to bond. Dinner was on the table every night, house immaculate every day. All we had to do was get good grades and act right.

Act right. Act normal. Act happy - don’t complain. Don’t cry.

“Conceal, don’t feel. Don’t let them know,” sings Elsa.

Yeah, no one knew.

No one, including her young children, knew that every event, action, reaction, discussion and decision occurred through the lenses of her paranoid delusions.

Over the years, she urgently relayed to me these figments as our unfortunate reality. She believed she had special psychic powers worthy of being studied by an unnamed committee of medical researchers. So, in her mind, our house and bodies were being watched every minute of every day and remained perpetually in danger. My friends were not really my friends but agents being used by this committee to get to her.     
Everyone was suspect. No one was safe. Everything was secret.

And my thirteen-year-old self believed everything I was told. Grandiose ideas that once seemed fanciful to a young child eventually revealed her as a woman suffering from schizophrenia.

But the secret didn’t last, and it’s reckoned that when my high school best friend’s concerned mother found out about the fantastico at our house, she was not allowed to talk to me anymore. Then none of the other girls in our group did either - ever again.

It’s only a theory that it happened that way. Regardless, this was the result for me: no more girlfriends, no more new sisters. The old sister and I hadn’t even started.

One day in the time and place of another story, I wrote a poem about my sister inside of which I named her princess. I was very young, but she at five years younger was so beautiful to me. To little-girl me, she was just like a beautiful princess.

But when girls grow up in “kingdoms of isolation,” they become queens of fear, awkwardness, insecurity, intimidation and shame. Elsa and I should do lunch.

Neither of us knew that the other would be telling the same story. Neither knew that we could be princesses - that we had it in us.

The princess characters gliding, singing and dancing around World Disney convey messages to little girls of beauty, kindness, courage and sincere care for all. 

It’s because every girl can care if she’s cared for first. (1 John 4:19) Every girl can be kind and courageous as Cinderella’s mother exhorted before dying.
Every girl who cares for all who cross her path by her affection and attention speaks love over and over.
Every girl can be a princess - of a sister-kind.
So when a sister, by birth or not, can’t care or be kind, when you can’t be safe in her arms, when she’s so ridden with fear, awkwardness, insecurity, intimidation and shame that she just doesn’t have any courage, you can be the princess she needs. Like Anna was to her sister-queen.
Because what every girl really needs is a sister.
Every girl needs a friend she can tell her secrets to, go shopping with, work out with, sing with, dance with, watch a movie with, pray with, who will just listen, hold you, help you find lost things like your smile, hope and courage, will not judge you no matter what, will love you always. 

A friend like that, a soul-sister, keeps you honest, keeps you happy, keeps you sane, beautiful, loved. She keeps you. Because what we need is to keep each other. We need to be each other's keepers so we'll never be alone. 
A girl and her sister... sisters like that, glide, sing, and dance in places somewhere inside of human hearts everywhere that are exciting, haunting, old, new, real...

and magical.

Monday, September 14, 2015

New Year New Wonders

I'm all over the place this fall. Our first week under our belt, I worry about all the things I forgot to impress upon them at our Goals and Goodies meeting.

Every year before our home lessons, outside classes and appointments begin, we have a family business meeting. It's very serious, except for the "goodies." We discuss family and individual goals over donuts or muffins and answer the endearing but serious question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

While this answer changes each year, their seriousness about such a matter does not. The future lawyer, marine biologist, NBA player and artist/singer are reverent about their dreams. And of course, they are allowed to change their minds because, it's God who will lead them, God who will hold their hand. It's He who is preparing their minds and hearts... for something. He puts the dream in their heads, but wants them to follow Him with their hearts. The realized dream is not the end, but the means. God is the end. 

"I am the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." Revelation 21:6

But there's so much to say with so little time to say it. How does a mama prepare a 10th, 7th, 4th and 1st grader for a new year in one hour?

Like the singing nuns asked about Maria, "How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?"

How can I possibly grasp every beautiful idea, quote, curiosity, image, wise saying, worthy person, place, study skill, Bible verse for them to see - in one hour? 

Says Aladdin,

"I can show you the world, 
Shining, shimmering, splendid... 
I can open your eyes, 
take you wonder by wonder, 
over, sideways and under, 
On a magic carpet ride."

Says Scripture much, much earlier,

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9

The magic carpet ride in the sky is our adventurous journey with God, a ride with the Creator, who holds a thousand moonbeams in His hand and shines them up there, dazzling our eyes. 

He is the God of wonder. All things wonderful come from Him. This is what I want them to see - God will take us wonder by wonder, over, sideways and under... God's wonders never cease, my dad used to say.

Many, Lord, my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. Psalm 40:5

God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things which we cannot comprehend. Job 37:5

God inserted something inside each one, so we would have a natural inclination to explore, inquire, wait and wonder.

Wait and wonder.

"It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder." Bishop Kallistos Ware

This year, we're turning over a new leaf in our homeschool methods for older children and discovering the art of questioning. Using the Five Common Topics, we explore five "places" to go while discussing a thing. "Topic" comes from "topos," which means place. Since I've learned this tool for tutor work at Classical Conversations, I've been trying to apply it as much as I can to anything up for discussion. I will likely write more about this later. It's a great kickstart for a talk with a middle and high schooler especially. The beauty of this method of asking questions is that it forces them to think. For the less curious student, it forces them to wonder.

The beginning of any good discussion, essay or endeavor is the important questions asked.

The act of asking questions is the key to discovering that there's something to wonder and realizing there is more to learn. Having the answers is not required. Those will come by asking more questions. And an even greater thing to them will come: the espial of God's plans for them...

His thoughts, His dreams for them.

Many, Lord, my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us.