Rag Time and Dry Bones: The Real Reason I Didn’t Send a Christmas Letter

 

image1Christmas Eve 2015. It’s 2 AM. My son is pounding out last year’s piano recital piece at 140 decibels. I’m upstairs with our houseguest who is off his time schedule and is amazingly chatty despite the hour.

“Wow.” My guest pauses in the middle of his thought and listens to the discordant melody below. “He’s really getting into it.”

“Yes. Hmmm. We encourage lots of practicing.” I say. Like a thirteen year old busting down the house with Scott Joplin tunes at two in the morning on Christmas Eve is the most normal thing ever. I raise my voice and shout over the din. “It’s Christmassy.” I try to look casual. “Sort of.” The scent of burning wood wafts up the stairs. Below, doors crash open and I hear shattering glass.

I don’t blame Teddy. He started out with some nice Beethoven. But his sister was hissing and flailing her arms. “Louder. Louder. We don’t want them to hear the drilling.”
And by drill, she means drill. Her Dad’s power drill. Because my husband was grinding wood screws into our 18 year old couch. On Christmas Eve. At two in the morning. While I fluffed pillows and chit-chatted with the first overnight guest we’d had in forever. Sweet. Baby. MOSES.

It seems, the couch had achieved total breakdown.

Breakdown. I closed my eyes. Irritated was not the word.

Breakdown. How dare the couch (a faithful servant and supportive family member for nigh on two decades) breakdown? Breaking down is not allowed. And in possibly the most ridiculously hilarious moment to ever occur in my star crossed history of domestic effort, I felt… nothing.

Because here’s the deal. If you put off breaking down, shutting down is all you have left. When a piece of furniture has more courage and integrity that you do, well, you’re one sad sack. A numb sad sack.

2015 I shut down the emotion. It seemed like the right thing to do.

It was logical. No one wants a volcano of emotion calling the shots. Isn’t that what we are taught? Buckle up. Suck it up. Fight hard. Get it done. Just do it. Very few motivational posters promote having a good cry in the corner.

Pull the plug. In the face of unrelenting pain and sadness, shutting down, especially as a parent, as the one not dying, as the one not burying your spouse, as the one who still has to get the kids to school, this feels right. Breaking down is not an option. To prevent insanity, shutdown wins.

There’s just one problem.

Shutdown is all encompassing. Shutting out pain and fear leaves joy suspended as well. And humor. Not dark, bitter humor, but the humor that sees ninja-mission-to-repair-the-couch-in-the-middle-of-the-night-on-Christmas-Eve is something to be CELEBRATED. That kind of humor. Life sustaining. It was missing. And when humor dries up, hope is scarce as well.

I haven’t blogged in a kabillion years. Because nothing inspired me. Who wants to blog about marching up hill? In the rain? With rocks in your shoes? Our family fought cancer and we didn’t beat it. It beat us. To pieces. And I was slowly blinded. Golden Retriever, shallow-loving, goof offs like me have no natural defense for sadness of this caliber. Aging and death and dying moved in. And the pillars of this family, the stalwarts of my life, were displaced. The bitterness of knowing safety is an illusion loomed right outside our door. And I was thrust into the role of the strong one.

So. I write this as a form of apology. To my friends who have been shut out. Piles of unopened Christmas cards still sit on my table. I don’t look at Facebook. I can’t even remember my email password. I was in sad-sack shutdown. And to my family. I’m so sorry. I was busy doing. Running. Driving. Bailing the water from our sinking ship. I know I hurt you with my non-response response. But I continued to feed you and wash your clothes. So there’s that.

And to God. Forgive me. My sweet precious Savior and Friend. For shutting you out. Because I was too tired to have our old argument. Where you are God and I am not. I know the Bible verses, Lord. I just didn’t have the energy to live them. All I could see was waves of pain stretching into the future. Probably bigger than this one. And how would we survive?

Then the couch exploded.

Gave up the ghost. Literally. Boom. Shedding 20 years of flaked off skin cells, pet hair, and other anonymous elements. When it hit the floor, the couch knocked a lamp and table over, shattering the bulb and filling the half lit room with a mystery vapor that left a subtle film on the pile of presents beneath the tree. Did I mention it was Christmas Eve? At two in the BLESSED morning?

I came down the stairs in three giant steps. Around the corner. To find my family. Glowing. I hadn’t seen this look in so long. What was it? Glee. Bordering on hysteria. In stage whispers they bounced on top of each other trying to tell me their PLAN (they were trying to fix the couch so I wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of our guest) And how they didn’t think the drill would be LOUD (thus the piano) and didn’t know it would SMOKE (thus the open doors and windows). They were actually wiggling. Like when they were toddlers.

And I looked into my husband’s face. The fatigue and pain and sorrow were not erased. But he was smiling. Those teeth. His blue eyes. It reminded me of when we were dating. That smile is why I’m a mother. Twice.

And it seemed as if God was talking. Here on the birthday of his Son. Sometimes. A breakdown is long overdue. Sometimes the wisest thing in the long run is to give up the short race. The collapsing couch brought perspective on the wasteland of my spirit. I was reminded of Ezekiel’s field of bones. Mighty warriors, reduced to lifeless, garish rubble.

I sat on the broken couch. Propped up with wood screws. Shutting out pain and fear at the expense of joy was a suckers bet. I dragged my toes through the sawdust on the floor. And I cried out to the One who knows me best. “You promised me joy. Our deal was that I would give you ashes and you would give me beauty. Well. Where are you?”

“Have you given Me your ashes?”

What on earth? I don’t like middle of the night thinking. The question bothered me. Who would hang onto misery? Pain? Fear? I rolled my eyes in the dark. But the unsettling thought clamored around my cavernous heart. Jostling all the bones lying around in there. Shutdown is shutdown. Freezing the assets. Clamping off the heart. I don’t think I’d really given God anything. Because I was busy not telling him how ticked off I was that cancer and disease and brokenness and dying and death had rolled over my family while he DID NOTHING to stop it, despite the sweetest prayers ever prayed by hurting children.

Wow. Apparently there was some fight left in those bones. “Why would I give up my ashes when it feels like all I have left?”

“If your hands and heart are full, I can’t fill them.”

My ninja couch fixers had reminded me of what I had lost sight of – Joy. It exists. Furthermore, it is my birthright. Where had joy gone? Do pain and fear win? Sometimes yes. Sometimes pain and fear win. But only the short race.

In the dark, I begged the God of Christmas to breathe life into these stubborn, tired, ugly bones. Because even as I had held Him off, I knew He loved me. I knew He was good. He was faithful. Even at the lowest point, I felt him standing there. The problem was, I didn’t want His company in this venue. I wanted a freaking change of circumstance. But I’ve read His word backward and forward again. He never promised me that I could be God.

But He did promise me that sorrow might last for a night, but joy would come in the morning.

Hmmm.

“Come like the four winds, Lord. Breathe life.”

I looked up just at the sky was turning from gray to pink. It sounds like I’m making this up, but it’s how it happened. Christmas morning came in the window.

Joy to the world.

And so, I have a plan for 2016.

I’m having a breakdown.

I’m not powering through. I’m walking slowly. I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m making space.

I’m living small. I’m letting the wind blow. I’m mourning. I’m celebrating. But mostly. I’m real.

I think the hardest part about being strong is knowing how and when to be weak. But I’m growing. And He’s making me stronger through my weakness. That’s how God works. Crazy train. If I’ve hurt you with my distance, please forgive me. I’m through with my sad sack-ness. I’m still sad, but I’m alive. And laughing. And goofing off. And wearing my crown of joy.
7<8
Hollylu

P.S. Our guest stayed in a hotel the next night. I am not making this up.
P.P.S. We spent too much money buying happiness during our sad Christmas, and so we are still sitting on our broken couch. But the couch is practically family. So that’s ok.
P.P.P.S. If you live in the South Sound and want to do Bible Study with me and bunch of real people- Please join us. Bring your gang. Starts March 3rd. I think it might be awesome. Because I can feel the wind.

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Girlfriends’ Guide Upcyled

We would like to invite you to a unique bible study experience!IMG_1077

Thursday evenings: 6:30-8:30 March 3rd through May 26th
Lighthouse Christian Center, Puyallup WA (253) 848-2028
Who is invited? Women and girls age 13 and up
Free childcare available with advanced registration. 
Registration now open at: lighthousehome.org

Hollylu Coon, a popular NW women’s speaker and author is teaching another session of her first Bible study, the Girlfriend’s Guide to Getting Real with God right here in the South Sound. 
The GGGRWG is a life application bible study.   Taking a break from structured formats and video teaching, the study focuses not so much on “knowing more” but on “living more of what you know”. 
Here’s the deal.  If you want the “full life” promised in John 10:10, you have to surrender more and more of your actual self while you are “actually living”.  Easy to say.  Hard to do.  We’ve found working in small, intimate groups designed to encourage and spur each other onward is a great way to start feasting on the bread of life! However, probably because small groups are so effective in fostering authentic Christian living, small groups can run aground in a ka-billion different ways.  Satan works overtime to keep us all from living real.
Enter the Girlfriend’s Guide.  This study is set up so that groups of friends attend together with the focus on pulling the Sunday morning experience into the Monday morning chaos.  You sign up as a group and sit as a group.  There are many opportunities to get to know other attendees, but the primary goal is to create a godly support system that can go with you into the future.
The bible study focuses on the spiritual disciplines of prayer, bible reading and fellowship.  Participants learn to take stock of strengths and weaknesses and move forward in their relationship with God with the encouragement of fellow believers.
Hollylu wholeheartedly believes that bible study should be rock star awesome and anything but boring.  So the Girlfriend’s Guide includes YouTube segments, current music, and many interesting twists and turns.  It is fun.  Very fun.  But always with the goal of being meaningful.  Because it is so self directed, this study challenges both younger Christians and more seasoned sisters.  It’s about discovering where you are at with God right now, and making a plan to move “onward and upward”!
We want to reach women who desire to “live real” regardless of age, denomination, or “years in the fold”.  If you have heard Hollylu speak, you know that her presentations are candid, funny and straight from the heart.  Her teaching is God centered, compassionate and inspiring.  Now is your opportunity to go deeper with a great teacher. For more information on taking this study as a group OR as an individual, check out hollylucoon.com or register today at lighthousehome.org. We hope to SEE YOU in MARCH! 

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Truth and Dares…

Hello Friends! 

Hey there! So. (Awkward pause) Do you want to come stuIMG_3973dy the Bible with me? (Big breath. Pulse rate quickening.) But not just for the purpose of studying the Bible? But for actually trying to live out all the stuff in the Bible? (And now, I am looking at my feet.)
Why is it so hard to invite people to Bible study? Especially people we really like? Well. Mostly because I don’t feel qualified. If you know me, chances are you’ve noticed one or two of my tiny, little flaws. Going to Bible study, and certainly leading a Bible study, seems like a job for the girls with nice hair and the right clothes. The ones who never yell. Never spend their kids allowance at Starbucks. You know the ones. The people who not only love God but also have their “stuff together”.
Uhm. If those are the qualifications, I’m out. WAY out.
BUT. What if someone who wasn’t very good at consistency. Or organization. Or matching clothes. What if THAT girl invited you to study the Bible? How about a frequently grouchy mom, an often irritable coworker, or perpetually domestically impaired wife…? What if someone who GETS BORED VERY QUICKLY and has a hard time thinking about one thing at a time, what if she invited you to crack open the Bible with the goal of changing how we plan to live TODAY? Would you be interested?
So that’s what I’m doing here. Because I know God is real. And He’s made some BIG promises. And all of His promises are TRUE. And I feel crazy alive as I chase after Him. And his JOY infuses the dark and crummy places. His word folds outwards. His LOVE is ever expanding, filling me to the top. Deep in my bones a FIRE burns bright and I just have to LIVE IT OUT. Even when I’m drinking decaf.
But it wasn’t always this way. God has been a part of my life for a long time. God has always wanted all of me. But, honestly, I didn’t want “all of Him”. Because…reasons. Mostly. Control. I wanted to stay in control. Call the shots. Be the boss. Shirk the work. Avoid the pain. I wanted to love God AND be comfortable. And then, I started reading the Bible in 3D. And everything got turned around and redefined. And this whole Christian thing got SO MUCH SIMPLER and vastly more interesting. Not easier. Not safer. But WAY more doable. And for a girl born to be wild, much more adventurous.
The Bible in 3D is sparkly (shocking) with multimedia type presentation suitable for short attention spans. I can honestly say, I’ve never worked this hard, learned this much, or had quite this much fun studying God’s word with a group of friends. By peeling the “familiar” off venerated passages we explore the scene with 3D glasses in an effort to define “strength and weakness” in God’s terms. We boldly go where we need to go. David’s cave? Saul’s battle field? The disciples sinking boat? It’s a wild ride. Its 12 weeks of adventure and appropriate (or as appropriate as I can ever be) for women ages 15-101. I highly recommend teenagers take it with a Mom or a good friend – as teenagers have a lot to teach those people. It begins THURSDAY MARCH 5th 2015 at 6:30 pm at Lighthouse Christian Center. The Bible in 3D is designed to be experienced as a “team” so bring some friends or come make some new ones. Or you could take the study by yourself and just sit in the back. Whatevs. It’s about what YOU need. Childcare is available with advanced registration (Childcare does fill up so register early.) All are welcome. Especially you adventurous types.
So. This is a shout out to the “rest of us”. Time crunched. Over worked. Under rested. The people who want to know what John 10:10 really means. Life Application. One. Day. At. A. Time.
If you are hooked up and running strong in another awesome study or group, excellent-o! But if you need a little somethin-somethin or you know a friend to whom you could recommend this study, I’d deeply appreciate it! And your prayers. Those I crave the MOST-EST. Hope to see you in March!
Loves!
Hollylu 7 < 8
Registration now open: lighthousehome.org/3dstudy

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Janu-cynical

disco-ball-blue January. It’s my twelfth favorite month. Sober. Somber. And cold. What’s not to love? Tis the season to collect the bills and step on scales. It’s time to pay the piper. I’ve never quite understood what exactly the piper did to demand payment, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with not telling anyone what happened to the peppermint bark, truffle fudge, and almond bread that mysteriously vanished from our kitchen.

So long Yule season. In sweeps January like a burst of arctic air. And I wake suddenly from my indulgence induced stupor and breathe deeply. In the stark light of the new year, I take a moment to reflect on my current status and come to the same inevitable conclusion.

I kind of suck.

Yep. January bites. This month is all about the collective social guilt of not quite living up to one’s potential. To counteract this cold reality, we make resolutions. And talk incessantly about “new beginnings” and “fresh starts”. Gone is the madcap gaiety of December. Here come the MINUTIA filled diatribes on “getting it together” in the New Year. That’s right. Get it together, Harriet.

This year it’s hard to sit and listen to latest version of “the plan.” All this buzzing makes me want to hide somewhere. Or punch someone in the face. I think it might be the lack of caffeine. Or maybe it’s that my body is used to consuming 2 pounds of refined sugar a day. I’m on day six of my cold turkey regimen. And all I have to show for it is the shakes.

Sheesh. I don’t want to be a puddleglum. I’m usually first in line for setting goals. The world is full of awesomeness. I want to be a cheerleader. I want to see the “possible”. I want to… I don’t even know what I want.

Besides a cup of coffee.

With every passing year, I find myself just a little more Janu-cynical. The month swarms with good intention and planning and goal setting. “It’s not that you’re a failure. It’s just that you need the right tools/plan/gym membership to succeed.” Tools. Tools. Tools. A diet involving only “orange foods”. An exercise program that promises instant results using a recycled rubber bands and a couch cushion. A financial workshop guaranteeing 7 figures in a matter of months while not even shedding your bathrobe. Hope appears to be selling for $129.99.

I listen while sipping water. And it all tastes a little like…what?

Like water.

Slightly bitter. Water is definitely NOT coffee.

I feel like a cat. Gigantically yawning and stretching while the world gets busy. I don’t feel like reaching for the stars. Or making a new tomorrow. Or living my best life. Or even putting on my big girl panties.

I feel tired.

And slightly apathetic. And if I were to let a feeling register, I would say I feel alarmed by my lack of feeling. What happened here? I’ve always been game for adventure, bolstered by the belief that problems have answers. We just need to be positive. Be creative. Keep moving forward. Even if only an inch at a time. Stay open in the heart and head.

But the doors feel closed. Maybe this is middle age. Maybe this is what “getting old” feels like. My New Year’s resolutions go unwritten. A blank page in my journal I have no desire to fill. Perhaps I need counseling. Or caffeine. Or salt. Yes, definitely salt. Potentially, this unsettled state could be solved with a Happy Meal.

Do they even sell Happy Meals in January?

It’s raining with little bits of ice mixed in. I know. Absurdly apropos. Perhaps I need a giant shot of hormones. Or an extraction of hormones. Or maybe just some sunlight. Or hormone laced coffee in a tanning booth.

To avoid this morose thinking, I watch a gripping episode of Judge Alex. I find watching pathetic losers on TV completely entertaining.. It feels good to watch people who “officially suck” more than me. Television is the best thing ever. As I watch a lady with an ample bosom and plunging neck line address the judge, I think I can identify some of my cynicism.

New Year’s Resolutions are too secondary to be much good. Too close to the surface. Our goals are face lifted and prettified. Because we all want to work on improvement without taking a good, nasty look at the problem.

Here is what we resolve. “I want to get in shape and lose weight.” But that’s secondary. There is stuff going on at a deeper level.

In the dark end of the closet, we find an internal dialogue. “I have loathed getting dressed in the light every day for the last 10 years. I hate myself. Hate. And food is a self medicated quick fix that enslaves my waking hours. I can’t stand the thought of living this way but I haven’t a sliver of hope of actually succeeding. Because food will always be a momentary respite from living as me.”

Hmm. That kind of truth is just uncomfortable. Better just talk about the scale.

Secondary goals usually fail. Who cares if you get new tires when the car is out of gas? Here is what we resolve. “I want to be a better communicator with my spouse.” So very safely secondary. Still water runs deep. “I don’t even know who this person is anymore. Why are we together? Did I ever love him? Does he love me? What will happen when the kids are grown? I’m so incredibly bored but I don’t want to end up losing everything.”

But these questions have no easy answers. Certainly nothing that could sell well in a 60 minute infomercial. So let’s just give the gravestone a makeover.

Perhaps my apathy this January stems from my own track record. I think all the bustling about is a monumental disservice to actual growth. Like a cosmic shell game I just can’t win. I sit still for a minute and listen to the emptiness of icy rain hitting the window.

What do I really want? What do I really need?

How much better will my life actually be if I fit into those jeans in the back of the closet? Or if I hit a certain figure in my bank account? Or get the new position? Make the move? Go back to school? I will still be me. Maybe thinner. Maybe richer. But still this person. This soul.

Judge Alex’s hammer interrupts my thought as he pronounces a verdict in another bizarre domestic dispute. Seriously, where do they find these people so incapable of helping themselves?

Hmm. So much of January “self helping” is an illusion. Keep reworking the equation. Move the puzzle pieces around. But I wonder. At the end of the day. At the end of the month. The elements of my nature remain. Perhaps I am an apple and I will never be an orange. Maybe the key to my future is not so much about changing who I am. Maybe it’s finally understanding who I am.

Whoa. That sounds way too mature and mystical. But I wonder. Why do I keep trying to be something I am not currently?

It seems in this tired state of “mid life” that my glasses have been knocked askew and what once was laser focused is all slightly blurry. My basic hard wired desires are still intact. I still want to avoid pain and suffering. I want to be admired. And respected. And known for stellar hygiene. But in a softer way.

If I peel back my top layer, what do I really want? This year had some hard doses of reality. I am aging. Life is transient.

“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” So much truth in found in overwrought 70’s programming. It’s happening. Life slips by faster every day. Working hard for material gain has definitely lost some allure. Playing “the game” seems kind of ultimately pointless.

If I were to care enough to write a New Year’s resolution, it must stem from a deeper part of me.

Here at the surface, I want to be thinner, and prettier, and richer. I want success without much work. I want respect without much responsibility. I’ve always wanted these things, but I’ve disguised my desires in socially appropriate dialogue. Shallowness must be covert.

But my shell is a little worn out. It might be easier to go a little deeper now. Underneath it all, what do I want?

I sit alone with Judge Alex, no wait. We’ve moved on to Judge Mathis.

And this thought registers.

I want to go to sleep a little bit content and wake up a little bit excited.

Really. That’s it? Am I this simple? Could it be that I’m not a deep person with a shallow veneer but actually a shallow person? I look for something more substantial. Nope. Nothing else in there. I turn off the television and stare into the misty gloom outside. “God, really? Am I so shallow that I want nothing more than a comfortable couch?”

Gah. Even when I’m trying to be legit, I’m hollow.

I may or may not have fallen asleep at this point. But eventually, I tuned back in. And the room had grown dark. And in the darkness God responded. “None of this is from Me.”

“What?”

“I did not create a month to highlight your inadequacies. I am not holding a list of your failures. I love you completely this instant. I could never love you more.”

“I know. I know. But I want to feel worthy of your love. I want to feel deep or meaningful or something. I’m tired of feeling shallow and weak and you know…not really needed.”

“I am God. I do not need you. Something better. I want you.”

I sat in the dark and wondered if I could ever fully embrace God’s love. Overwhelming. Complete love. Unconditional. Undeserved. There always seemed to be some barrier to full acceptance. My logic. My strength. My plan.

I am no different than the parade of pathetic sheep that file into a television courtroom. My desire to help myself, my feeble effort to “start fresh”, my anthem to “be my best self” are all snares blinding me from getting to the core of the matter. No wonder I’m so tired. I cannot change my elemental make up. Only the author of life can change the original equation. Any effort that doesn’t embrace Him solely as the power source is futile. Secondary resolutions are as effective as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We might feel successful while the band is playing, but the iceberg is waiting.

Ice, ice, baby. Waiting in the dark.
I wanted a primary resolution. Something from the source. And these words bubbled up from a hidden corner of my soul.

“God, I want to surrender fully to your love. I want to walk around inside it. I pull it over my skin in the morning and roll up in it at night. I want to breathe your love in and exhale your love out. I want your eyes to open mine. I want your heart to beat inside this body. And I want to be free to rest knowing your love is complete. Total. And sufficient for every single moment. I need. I want. I want to need only you.”

And sweetness invaded the dark. My goal was to not to change me. But to spend time exploring who I really am. A child of the One True King. However far I plunge the depths, God is deeper still. Calling. “Follow me. Let me show you a life that is truly life.” I felt genuinely motivated. Not to move. But to stop. No more Ninja kicking in the dark. Stop and surrender to the love. I sensed all kinds of goal setting in the near future. But now the disco ball was plugged into the only real power source.

January rolled out before me. A beautiful blank page in my journal. Filled with His potential. My role, my job, is not more work. It’s more surrender. And I got off the couch and cranked the Bee Gee’s to full volume. “Ok. 2014. Let’s kick it.”

by Hollylu

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