Friday, November 30, 2012

Until I Can See How Far I've Come . . .

Courtesy J. Paine

I knew before my eyes opened what was coming. I knew it was gonna be a “let 'er down gentle” moment when it arrived. I was going to have to live up to the standard I championed even though I would not want to. Bravery doesn't come easy when it's your turn to show it.

I told myself all day that I had been courageous to try. It was amazing I had even known how. “Self,” I said, “Enjoy the process and don't worry too much about the outcome. You will have other opportunities. Just keep walking.”

I went through the day letting go of expectations I had tried not to have. I began to let go before someone else embarrassed me by prying my boney fingers loose from what was never mine. I looked at my mental lists of what if's and if then's. To prove that all was not lost, I picked through the rubble for what might be salvageable.

Vocabulary led to The Scarlet Letter which gave way to Algebra, and before I knew it, we flew out the door to Fencing. The distractions were insufficient to the task. I found myself rehearsing an exit strategy even as I went through the school day motions. I guess you could call me a doomsday prepper.

By suppertime, it was there on the computer waiting for me just like I knew it would be. Gracious, polite, complimentary and telling me what I already knew. It was time to pick a new goal and keep walking.

I smiled to myself as I began to type a response. I had been doomsday prepping all day while fighting to keep insecurity at bay. So, I was gracious, polite, and complimentary in return.
Courtesy A. Hughes

I steadied myself because I would have to tell the others. I did what I didn't want to do. I covered my broken heart with offhand indifference and made the announcement in passing. Tears threatened to glisten behind my eyelashes. I just kept doing the next thing hoping no one would notice.

Sometimes, you have to believe that God has a sense of humor. When you do, you have to have faith that you are not the butt of his joke. While the fencers practiced their parry and reposts, I read She's Got Issues by Nicole Unice. Providence can make you wince sometimes. Today was that day.

I was wallowing in insecurity waiting to be told I was insufficient and unwanted. Nicole talked to me about awkward teenage years and the gangly growth spurts we all have. Then, she hit me where I live by suggesting insecurity is an awkward spiritual growth spurt.

When we frame our insecurities as guideposts on the road to growth, we may still feel awkward about them, but we will also recognize them as totally necessary steps toward true freedom in Christ. (p. 89)

What if we begin to think of our insecurities not as shameful places to hide but as opportunities to see God working in our lives. (p. 90)

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative 
You have to laugh, don't ya? Even if you are laughing through the tears you don't want anyone else to see.

I waited until the house was quiet, and it seemed safe. Finally, I could let the truth slip between my eyelashes and bathe my face in tears. Life has handed me so many failures. What's one more especially when I could have predicted it from a mile away?

I will pick up these pieces just like I am picking up all the rest strewn on the path of life behind me. Today, it feels as though I take one step forward and ten steps back. And yet, I keep walking.

It is a painful process, this awkward one of spiritual growth. From where I am tonight, I cannot see how far I've come because the forest of disappointment and failure is so dark I can barely see my hand in front of my face.

Courtesy B. Creasy - 2010
I will keep walking until I can turn around and see how far I've come. I will face my insecurity and yes, even my fear, knowing the one who walks beside me:

specializes in situations that seem bleak, in people the world calls goners, and in cemetery places of the soul. (p. 91)

Won't you keep walking with me? 

(click on the picture to enlarge the image)

Jeremiah 31:3 (Amplified Bible)
Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you and continued My faithfulness to you.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Broken Hearts, Broken Dreams, and Broken Holidays

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative 

Meeting his mom's eye with a knowing glance, the older son gave a wise nod. The preschooler between them tore open his package undoing the meticulous wrapping project in seconds. He was oblivious to what was unfolding around him – or more accurately what had not unfolded.

The gift at hand was a decoy. A stand-in tagged as if it came from an absentee father whose gift had not, and would never, arrive. Young as he was, the ploy still worked its magic for the little fella.

The older one was wise to the game now. “Ha. I guess he sent the gift Pony Express, and the pony died.” The mom arched an eyebrow as the two snickered in camaraderie. It was a pattern that would repeat most years as the two boys grew to men.


Lights twinkle as darkness descends upon neighborhoods. In house after home, decorations suitable for Instagram and Pinterest appear in all their glory. We prepare for Black Friday and Cyber Monday as if they are religious experiences. Grocery stores hum as delicacies of the season fly off the shelves.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative 
If you watch closely enough, however, you will see pain hidden behind the frozen smiles of hurting people around you. They are the ones who wait, in this mean season of holiday pain, for a Pony Express that will never arrive. The wounds go deep and are too numerous to name.

Some pain is raw, open for all the world to see: unemployment, death, divorce, disfigurement, admitted addiction, mental illness, chronic illness, and disability. You see that pain and wince. The suffering see your gaiety and wonder how you can go on as normal when their lives will never be the same.

For some, a secret pain leaves them with no where to turn. They suffer the insults of abuse, infidelity, and addiction behind closed doors. Isolation and loneliness in marriage colors some days as deftly as the lights surrounding us. For others, family secrets hold everyone hostage and infuse the air with tension and pretense.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative 
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's come in rapid succession leaving the hurting ones unable to breathe as one bombardment follows another. If they told you the truth, some days they wake up hoping the Mayans were right about the world ending in 2012. And yet, they put on perfect holiday smiles for the sake of those around them especially the ones they love.

I sit in the quiet of my freshly cleaned home anticipating the week of celebrations ahead. I ponder the mean seasons when I slipped out of the house after dark to cry cold, lonely tears while staring back at a house ablaze in holiday lights. The world was falling down around me, and no one seemed to care. I remember me and think of the hurting ones wondering now how to celebrate when life has entered a mean season.

Courtesy M. Horrocks
To the outside world, my life is again in tatters. My marriage is in smoldering ruins around my feet. I do not know what the future holds. I wonder: is too late to start family traditions in a fractured family that was never good at traditions even in our best of times. I wonder: has time run out? Did I miss the holiday Pony Express?

If you, my fraidy cat friend, have stumbled in from the cold and dark thinking no one sees your frozen smile or heart full of pain, rest easy. You are among friends. I am glad to welcome you home and have something I want you to know.

As mean as your season has become and as lonely as you feel, you are not alone. There is a God, a Creator God, who has a plan for you. I call him Redeemer because he is in the business of redeeming loss and pain no matter how it comes packaged or by whom it was given. He sees your broken heart, broken dreams, and broken holidays.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative 
As far fetched as it seems just now, he has his eye upon you. He has promised that his plan for you will not be frustrated if you keep your eyes on him. Believe me, I know how hard that last part is. I know because I have been writing my way back to him and wrestling with him every step of the way.

Tonight, I am thankful you have found your way here. I am thankful I can share in the fellowship of your suffering and tell you about a baby who was born, lived, died, and rose again so that our pain would never go unheeded.

You see, I am convinced of that truth even tho' I am in a mean season of my own. I rejoice and celebrate knowing my Redeemer lives. I am certain he is in the process of making something beautiful out of this mess I call life even in the midst of my broken heart, dreams, and holidays. 
                                                                                                                 Why don't you stick around for awhile. Wait with me, and let's see what
Courtesy B. Creasy - 2010
redemption looks like? I'll be looking for you. I promise.

1 Peter 5:10 (NLT)
In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.

Phillipians 1:6 (NLT)
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Nights Like These – A Parent's Lament

It is late, and I should be in bed. Ask any homeschooling mom, and she will tell you. The mathematical probability of a kid needing to talk is directly proportional to her determination to get to bed early. Here's the thing – I tell myself I homeschool for just such nights as these. My son can stay up late and pour his heart out until his words are spent. I did it for his brother. Turn about is fair play.
By Courtesy and in Loving Memory of Christina Jones Hooker

Wanna know the ugly truth? I'm older now, and when I've been up writing till the wee hours for the last three nights, the last thing I wanna do is sit and listen with grace and empathy. Especially when I know we are going to grind over and over the same old territory we just covered the last few times we navigated nights like this one. I want easy answers and quick solutions. I wanna snap my fingers and hiss, “Go to bed!”

I look at the clock. I wonder how much longer till he will have exhausted all he can say. I watch for him to slump with relief as he realizes the pressure valve of words has been released. In that moment, the tears rise in my eyes, and the ache in my heart threatens to rip my chest open. I am sure I am a failure because even the answers I have fail to pacify him.

Oh, for the days when he would hear the loud noise of trucks half a mile away and cling to my leg for reassurance. It was so easy then. A pat on his baby head and the words, “S-h-h-h, baby, it's just a truck,” were enough. He'd toddle on off to play, and I could sigh a big ole fat sigh of parental success. Where did those days go?

Courtesy A. Squires
Now the insecurities that bring him running concern life, faith, and truth. Is my life going to have meaning, or will I just survive some dead end job in a life without purpose? Who is trustworthy? What makes them trustworthy? Is God trustworthy, and how do I know? Will I be a good spouse, and how do I get from here to there? Why does it take so long to grow up and get where I wanna go? Which Algebra lesson will be the fatal dose? Oh, the agony of youth. Oh the agony of parenting when easy answers no longer do the job.

I sit and try to recover from the onslaught of intense emotions that overwhelmed him. I wonder how to prepare for the next time. He slips back in the room with his head bent low. Wordlessly, he drops down beside me and wraps his gangly arms around me. I do what I have done since he was a baby safe in my belly. I pray.

I pray that I will be sufficient to the task and that God's strength will be made perfect in my frailty. I pray that he will protect my deep thinking son from a world that offers so many easy, but counterfeit, answers. I recount the verses that promise we are created for a unique purpose with good works to fulfill before God hung the world in place.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

We sit in the quiet until my tears subside. We agree that it is hard to talk and hard to be heard. Even harder to feel understood. We have survived despite our capacity to wound each other. I realize that this is part of entering into my son's life and into the fellowship of his youthful suffering. But it is hard. And it is late. And I am spent already from the sadness in my own life.

And then, I see the Son of Man bending near. How often he has been up late watching over me even as he counted the hairs on your head. One thing did not distract him from the other. Fatigue did not provoke him to hiss and hurry us along. When his answers were hard for me to hear and even harder for me to understand, he waited as the night grew later.

Unlike me, he never wondered how to prepare for the next time I would come crying or complained that he was insufficient to meet my need. As I mop up the emotional flood that's left behind our late night pow-wow, I realize my son can neither feel nor comprehend my suffering on his behalf.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

Oh, how much I have in common with my hurting son in light of all the days God has seemed insufficient to act on my behalf and understand my suffering. God sees my childish lament and knows the corners I cannot see around. He anticipates what I am yet too immature to grasp. He waits for me to catch up as I mature in faith. I do not try his patience nor exhaust his eternal strength. Not only is he sufficient for me, I do not have to be sufficient for my hurting son because God is and always will be. 
Courtesy B. Creasy - 2010

Isaiah 53:5 (Easy to Read Version)But he was being punished for what we did. He was crushed because of our guilt. He took the punishment we deserved, and this brought us peace. We were healed because of his pain.

A Voice Lost in the Noise

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

I kept shaking my head in amazement the rest of the Allume weekend. I was amazed that God used Mary DeMuth to whisper in my ear. I felt my wobbly legs grow stronger from the infusion of confidence. As soon as I dared look around at the talent in the room, I was walking on spaghetti strings of jello again barely able to stand on my own two feet.

It was awe-inspiring to rub elbows with four hundred or so bloggers, including some with rock star status, every time I ventured out of my room. According to, “Over 391 million people view more than 3.8 billion pages each month.” Wordpress alone drives over fifty-seven million sites.

Can you see what I'm thinking? The four hundred of us gathered weren't a spit in the internet ocean. If we weren't even a spit . . . I was, and will always be, lost in a sea of noise. Not only am I lost, I am behind and running to catch up on all things technically related to blogging. While waiting for the next keynote speaker, I slunk down in my chair and began to make peace with myself for the five minutes of every week I can do so.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Darren Rouse was sitting in the lobby when I arrived. Here's the thing, you might not know who he is, but in my community of bloggers, he's a rock star. He's one of those who makes a real living blogging – and by real I mean in the style which I will never be accustomed. He'd been on the elevator with me a few times because we were lodging on the same floor of the hotel. If you saw him on the street, you'd have no clue he was a rock star because he looks and acts like, well, everyman. He was funny and shy and real about his faith.

This humble man, who lives in the stratosphere of success, flew all the way from Australia to tell us about his life as a pastor and how he discovered blogging. He recognized the power of the medium and wanted to harness it. It was 2001. Know what he thought at the time? He thought he was “behind the curve” and that he would never catch up. In fact, his first blog post got zero views while his review of a camera model he used on a trip went ballistic.

His words rang in my ears like the bells of Notre Dame. Darrel Rouse thought he was behind the curve ten years ago. Oh my fraidy cats. He knew exactly how I felt. And then, God used Darren Rouse to whisper in my ear a second time that weekend:

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
You don't need a huge following to change one life, and if you change one life, your blog is big enough.”

This theme over-arched the entire weekend, but his comment was the one that tied all the related ones together.

Here's the truth: I am always going to be lost in the noise. I am never going to catch up. I can bob and weave with Facebook as they alter  algorithms and force brand pages to pay to be seen. Facebook holds the winning hand. I will disappear unless you work hard to see me and my updates.

I can set goals and take classes to grow my blog. I can figure out how to create printable pages, produce my own ebooks, and ask other bloggers to help promote my pages. I can do those things because of the gracious and wonderful community of bloggers God is allowing me to befriend. I can chase the blogging world's definition of success and not change a thing in the world.

I have felt the frantic push-pull of the 'do this – do that to reach blogging success and generate an income'. Believe me, I feel it even more now that I face life as an aging single parent whose last teenager will soon fly the nest. I tell myself I have no current job skills and that 'all' I can do is write, so I better figure out how to make this blogging-to-'real'-writer scheme work and work quickly. Can you feel my anxious frenzy growing?

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Toward the end of his talk, Darren told the story of how he watched a little girl eat cake, the same kind of cake he had only just finished savoring bit by bit, tiny bite by bite. After an approving nod from her mom, she grabbed the cake with bare hands and devoured it in seconds becoming a chocolatey mess in the process.

He then encouraged us to give up the fork and gobble Christ without reserve because those of us who gorge ourselves on him will live. That's when I knew what I've always known. Life is hard. There are bills to pay even as an uncertain future looms.

Yes, I want to be a rock star famous writer who travels and speaks and rubs elbows with bloggers and authors like Darren Rouse and Mary DeMuth till I think, “Hmm...this is normal. This is what I do.” But the only thing that will matter when the world ceases to spin is the one life that was changed, or not, because of what I wrote.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I will always be invisible, and this blog will last for only a season. If you feel invisible today because words harshly spoken convinced you you are, I see you. Your pain is real. Your loneliness is real. Your need is real. I know the one who can be there in the midst of that pain. I hope you meet him here in the midst of my messy, needy life. I hope you feast fork-less and with abandon because you meet him here.

John 6:57 (Amplified Bible) Just as the living Father sent Me and I live by (through, because of) the Father, even so whoever continues to feed on Me [whoever takes Me for his food and is nourished by Me] shall [in his turn] live through and because of Me.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Prayers for a Zombie in the Midst of an Apocalypse pt. 2

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

It was time for newbies to mingle. Putting my game face on, I slipped into the venue taking little comfort in knowing I would recognize a few faces. Truth be told, I went to the social because I figured I owed it to my brother-benefactor to squeeze every ounce I could out of the conference. My heels left tread marks on the carpet between my room and elevator given the force required to get me there.

Noise square-danced around the multistory atrium as it echoed and bounced round and round and up and down. Have hotel architects never heard of sensory processing disorder? I'm neuro-typical and was becoming dizzy with the effort to make sense out of the cacophony of sounds. Between noise and nerves, I was nauseous.

I wandered aimlessly through the hall bobbing and weaving, speaking and nodding but not lighting anywhere. Finally settling into a chair near an anim
ated group of trendy gals, I strained to hear their conversation. We made chit-chat about who was from where and regional accents. I began to feel like the invisible grandmother in the room.

Courtesy D. Scott
I soon realized I had plopped right down into the middle of a group of women who had business relationships and were ecstatic to see one another since they lived in far flung places. Ooooooops! I watched them for a bit admiring their hipness and energy. Again, I wondered, “What am I doing here?” As quick as I could, I made excuses and wandered some more thanking the good Lord that supper was about to be served.

So it was I began to pass my time going from break out session to meals and back to my room. Here and there I snatched comfort at seeing a familiar face who knew I was a fraidy cat in the midst of a life altering apocalypse. In those moments, I could be real: real vulnerable and real transparent instead of trying to be the trendy grammaw in the room full of hipster blogging moms.

I was doing o.k. really. I was meeting and mingling without anyone running away like her hair was on fire. I even managed to be glib enough to elicit laughter when I felt I needed to. No one knew my real life, the one I left behind at home, had fallen apart only days before my plane took off for Allume. I was safe behind my mask. 

Mary DeMuth's break out session filled quickly. I arrived at the door and stumbled to the front. It was standing room only. I slumped against the front corner wall with a bird's eye view of the speaker and slid down to the floor. It was a good thing because I was gonna need that line of sight when she started to pray. And, it was gonna be a good thing I wasn't standing because I might have fallen down in shock.

Courtesy and in Loving Memory of Christina Jones Hooker
The wall behind me hummed from the energy building in the room. I wondered how she'd speak order into the building chaos. Magically, the room fell silent. She made a few jokes about being a writer who'd never published a best seller and asked us to join her in prayer.

I don't promise that the following words are verbatim, but they are as close as I can recall given that my mamma taught me you can't take notes while someone is praying.

Mary's voice was feathery around the edges as if she was just nervous enough to make her voice all but quake. Either that or she'd just run up a flight of stairs to be on time. But, this is what she said:

Dear Lord,

I am praying for the woman whose life has recently been affected by trauma and for whom words have been destructive. I pray that you would break the power of those words and help her know she is not defined by them.

It's a good thing my mamma wasn't there and that the good word says "watch and pray" sometimes because my head snapped up, and my eyes popped open. I kept watching Ms. Demuth to see if she was gonna return my open mouthed stare.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Common sense told me I wasn't the only one in that group who found her words uniquely personal, but my heart said she was gonna open her eyes, look to her right, and point directly at me as she continued to pray. I heard what she said after that, but I didn't really take it in because God took up where my ears left off understanding her words.

It was as if he said:

I see you. I see you right here in the middle of all these cool young women. You are right where I wanted you, and I gave Mary these words because I wanted you to know I care enough about you to have a total stranger pray for you and not even know it. I am going to break the power of the trauma of your separation and the words that triggered it. You are not defined by those words. I defined you before I threw the stars in space. I brought you to this place in such an unorthodox way because I didn't want anyone or anything else to confuse my point.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I see you fraidy cat, and he does too. I know the power of traumatic words that define your days and tell you who you are and what you cannot be. You are defined by the God who created you not the angry words banging and clanging in echoes throughout your heart and soul. He wants to break the power of those traumatic words and set you free.

I had to get on a plane and fly to Allume to hear God's voice. I hope you heard it right here on this page in this hidden corner of cyberspace. Come back again and walk with me a while? You are gonna be amazed at who I met and what I heard the rest of the weekend. It sure amazes me! 
Courtesy B. Creasy - 2010
Psalm 40:5 (Amplified Bible)
Many, O Lord my God, are the wonderful works which You have done, and Your thoughts toward us; no one can compare with You! If I should declare and speak of them, they are too many to be numbered.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Prayers for a Zombie in the Midst of an Apocalypse-pt.1

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

The crushing realization came in the midst of a season of crushing moments. After months of anticipation, it was clear that my plans to attend an August conference were in shambles. God had closed the door in a painful, ugly way I still cannot understand. I don't think I ever will.

As I dealt with fractured relationships intertwined with the fractured plans, I kept telling myself God wastes nothing in his economy – not even well laid plans, disappointments, or broken relationships. I tried to believe the PR I was weaving on God's behalf. Let's just say my inner PR campaign fell short of comforting me. 

My brother–benefactor and I began to look around for another plan. Allume, a social media conference, was on my 2013 'wish list' because the 2012 conference sold out before I discovered it. At his prodding, I began a quest to snag a ticket despite the fully booked status. I was begrudging as I searched thinking I was wasting my time and burning up more hopes. I just didn't want another crushing blow at a time of utter emptiness.

I watched the Allume Twitter stream and Facebook pages as cancellations popped up and tickets landed in other folks' hands. The truth is, I gave up and began to settle into a comfortable state of grief over the way God was working, or not, in my life. When I least expected it, a note landed in my inbox. In the space of forty-eight hours, I had booked conference and airline tickets as well as a hotel room. I think I'm still in shock. 

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
When my August conference plans fell apart, I had no idea my marriage was going to implode with even more drama. Nor could I have known those events would unfold within days of confirming my Allume attendance. Ignorance is bliss until realization dawns cold and ugly.

As the shower of words rained down around me giving me to know that I was now 'that woman', the fifty-plus year old facing divorce after over twenty years of marriage, I ceased to breathe, plan, or feel. I could only move through the days on zombie auto-pilot. You have to laugh. 

After the last decade, I'm pretty sure I don't know how to operate on anything other than zombie or zombie-standby mode. I've had my apocalypse preparedness kit in place since long before it was the trendy media joke.

What to do about the conference? If I bailed, my brother would have sacrificed so much for nothing. Given the tight time frame between my separation and the conference, I set my face like flint and followed through. Who knew? Maybe the trip would be just what I needed to soothe my separation scarred psyche and soul.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I survived the flights in a manner that would make my fellow fraidy cats stand up and cheer. Since I was on zombie-pilot, nary an eyelash quivered when I realized my connecting flight was landing as my final flight was boarding. Have you ever had to get from one end of Dulles in DC to the other in that situation? Let's just say, I rock.

I didn't even run through the airport. I stopped for the bathroom in sight of my departure gate. See. I told you. I was a zombie. The gate attendant hustled me on board just before they locked the jet door. Before I knew it, a Harrisburg, PA airport police officer was helping me locate my hotel shuttle. He-he-ha-haw. If I keep doing this kinda thing, I'm gonna outgrow my fraidy cat status and have to change the name of this pitiful little blog.

The conference center hummed with exclamations and conversations as established bloggers met others they'd only known in cyberspace. I surveyed the scene and realized these were mostly young, trendy gals. You know the type: no cellulite or gray hair, grew up with hand held electronics at the ready, cool enough to make horn-rimmed glasses look so hip you feel like you'd die without a pair.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I gasped for air hoping to see someone that looked as disoriented as me. Was there anyone else in the entire event like me: cellulite from neck to calves, gray hair that had not experienced the kindness of salon treatments, can't spell iPad or YouTube correctly much less use them, and looks like your grammaw's childhood librarian if she gets too close to horn-rimmed glasses.

Yep. I was a fraidy cat mess. Too sure I was too unhip to be a blogger much less a cool one that anyone would want to follow on Twitter. Sure I should run to my room and enjoy the next 2.5 days on invisible hiatus eating room service vs enjoying the catered meals. Screaming, “God, why am I here, and why did I do this to me – now of all times when I am a nothing, a no one, and a failure. All these women are young and cute and hip and headed somewhere with an audience big enough to make them a 'success' by my pitiful blogging standards!" 

And yet, there I was in the middle of all that community waiting for the God who wastes nothing in his economy to redeem my season of loss. How was I to know that the prayers of a stranger I still have not met would be a pivot point in my life as a zombie. 

Courtesy B. Creasy

Psalm 90: 14-15 (NIV)
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.