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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Out of the Box

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Dear Keepers of the Status Quo;

Please accept delivery of your box.

I am finally returning it.  After all these years, I’ve decided that it’s just no use. I cannot do it.  I cannot live inside the box you sent me anymore.

I really tried to make it fit.  Really I did.  I was so deeply in love with you.  But what does a child know about real love?  I thought the only way to win your affection was to fit in the box you sent.   So the day it arrived, I jumped inside.  Instantly, I discovered my hips were a little wide and my teeth somewhat crooked.  My hair fuzzed out and I could only sing off key.  Your box was never really made for me.

Turns out, the box you sent was stamped “perfect fit only”.

I guess the perfect fit inside comfortably.  The rest of us with our unsightly flaws and mediocre abilities rub and chaff against the sides.  Every time I moved, I jostled and bumped against the corners.  Constantly reminded of my imperfection.

The only way to cope was not moving at all.

I was younger then.  I got confused.  I mistook not moving in an ill-fitted box as “fitting in”.  At first it was hard to be quiet inside the box you sent.  But I loved you so.  I longed to be with you.  Even if I had to live inside a box.  So, I learned to be quiet.  I learned to be still.  To not call attention to the corner of the box that bulged or the lid that popped up when I sneezed.  I thought this would please you.

I waited patiently for you to notice how well I was doing at living inside the box you sent.

But you didn’t notice anything about me.  Unless part of me inadvertently squeezed out of the box.  Then you might lash out in distain.  Or laugh in disgust.  But mostly, my existence went unacknowledged.  And inside my ill-fitting box, I was wondering.  Is this what I wanted?  To hold space inside a box?

While inside your box, I noticed how little room there was for anything new.  The box you sent was a mighty tight fit.  It pinched my off my dreaming.  Stunted my curiosity.  It gave me indigestion.  And amnesia.  Gradually, I started to forget that I was a person living inside a box and not the box itself.

In one last attempt to win your love, I slipped out of my box.  To stretch.  To exercise.  To work on my blemished parts.  Older and wiser, I knew I could never fit inside the box you sent unless I worked on the bulging and sneezing and all the other things that didn’t fit just right.

It felt great to be outside my walls.  To breathe the air.  To feel the grass.  But then, when I saw you coming, I would scramble back inside.  Hoping you’d see how nice I fit.  “Look at me!”  I’d shout from inside the box.  You must not have heard me.  The box muffled my voice.

Then a funny thing happened.  With every foray out of the box you sent, the return trip was ever more uncomfortable.  I couldn’t find any resting position.  I felt the smallness of the space so much more than before.  After living inside your box so long, I had no idea how dangerous climbing out of the box could be.

And then one day, I couldn’t fit back in your box at all.  Not even my toe.  I have simply outgrown the box you sent me.  At first, I was somewhat dismayed because the box felt like home.  But the air was fresh and the flowers were lovely.  Time passed.  And now I can’t even remember why I ever climbed in the box you sent in the first place.

For a while, I left the box lying around.  I was busy.  What with the bulge now a bump and the sneeze now a wheeze.  Here in the open, I’ve stayed the same while changing so much.  I’ve discovered that outside the box, I am what I am, not what I am not.

I’d almost forgotten about you and your box.  But today I noticed a child looking at the box in the corner.  A lovely child with a beautiful voice and wildish hair.  And her eyes filled with something new.  A strange longing for you.

And suddenly I saw the box you sent me for what it is.  A dream-squeezing, people-pleasing, difference-loathing, ridicule-loving, standard keeping jail-in-a-box.  The box was never a gift of love.  Real love never involves box dwelling.

So am returning this box to you post haste.  I’m sorry I ever accepted it.  It took me a while figure it out, but now I’m going to dance with girl who has wildish hair and every wonderful, outlandish, unusual, and uniquely imperfect person I meet.

And hopefully, we will all be too busy celebrating with our feet in the grass and our face in the sun to ever accept delivery on a mysterious box that says,  “If you want me to love you, first climb inside.”

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Yours truly,

Finally Out of Junior High

 

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Green Eggs and Purity: How NOT to Talk to Your Kid About the Birds and the Bees

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Purity.

It’s complicated.

Give me a good political debate. Or union grievance. Or a bunch of mothers arguing the merits of spanking. I can handle it. But purity, that’s tricky-woo. Everything with teenage daughters is tricky. However, Purity (combined with her awkward sister-in-arms, Modesty) well that’s a virtual fire swamp.

All moms eventually discover any discussion of “wholesomeness” involves walking a tight rope between frumpy prairie skirts and trampy hot pants while dangling over ill-defined quagmires of makeup and body piercing.

Hmmm.

It’s not like we can sit down and have a rational conversation. “Honey. What message are you trying to send with that outfit? Because the billboard I’m reading shouts “Pretty Woman meets Count Chocula.”

Nope. Nothing straight forward permitted. “The Mom” has to be all “sensitive” and “mature” while our lovely daughters question our fashion sensibilities with a level of tact matched only by Howard Stern. Best as I can tell, teenagers are looking for something to push against. Apparently, my standards are the barrier for the crash test trials. “Oooo. Hit me again. Only this time, crank it up to 200 miles per hour.”

So along with mammograms and the containers in the back of the fridge, I’ve been avoiding discussing the importance of purity with my kid.

Which is weird because I talk about everything like I’m stuck in confession mode with no booth to hide in. But for some reason, “chastity” makes my mouth dry. And my stomach churns a little. And I get distracted looking for Rolaids instead of embracing the birds and bees.

I’m not alone. Turns out there are all kinds of “suggested guidelines” for hapless parents. Entire WEBSITES dedicated having “the talk’ with your kid.
What? Where were all these rules and regulations back in the days of my “tender blossoming”? My mom could have used some structure. I vaguely remember her describing “the curse” and drawing anatomical pictures of a vagina with ovaries on a McDonalds napkin. (I’m not kidding). After a lengthy discussion of pads and tampons – she briefly covered sex. “It’s something moms and dads do before the baby comes.”
And we called it a day.

The rest of my education had to be gleaned from slumber parties and eloquent missives scratched across the painted stalls of the girls locker room.
Either my Mom was sneaky like a fox, or I was exceptionally blessed or I ended up dumb lucky. Or some combination thereof. Because I married the most amazing man. And although we were two naive babes on our honeymoon, we have managed to make two kids. It takes practice. Lots and lots of it.

It’s hard to explain my “purity journey” to anyone. I have nothing to boast about. In fact, my chastity was somewhat annoying. I was committed to waiting for the right man. But God, in His infinite wisdom made sure I was never tested. I mean never. NEV-ER. I was TOTALLY invisible to guys until I met “the guy”. It’s not like I was a social pariah. I was marginally attractive. And my mom was constantly giving me fashion tips. “Good Lord, Hollylu. Unbutton your top two buttons so you don’t look like Sister Prudence.”
But I only really dated. Only really kissed. Only really wanted to be with one man.
And I think this is a BIG part of our happy, happy marriage. We’ve never known anything or anyone else. And twenty two years of coming home to a rock solid relationship has definitely trumped the high school years filled with Friday nights alone with my ice cream and a stack of Seventeen Magazines.

This is the stuff I want to convey to my daughter as she morphs from gap toothed wild child into a lithe, super model. Egad. She’s getting more beautiful by the minute. Where is all this “good looking” stuff coming from? Some sort of genetic scramble I suppose.

This summer, as Anna walked beside the lake, the boys were looking. At her. At my BABY. Sheesh. Resisting the urge to punch the interlopers in the face, I handed Anna a towel. “I’m cold. You need to wrap up in this.”

Clearly, fisticuffs weren’t the best option. I really needed to “parent”. Or something.
I didn’t want to bully her. Or take all the fun away. Desperately, I wanted to show her a glimpse of the bigger picture. To help her see how waiting for the “good thing down the road” is worth the temporary loss or loneliness. Life can be so sweet. So beautiful. So amazing. But it takes a lot of faith. And guts. Lots of guts.

This is what I wanted to say.

But as she changed in front of my eyes, my fear of losing her, my frustration at not knowing how to be the best possible parent, my anger with our culture’s twisted version of womanhood, and knowing that this Halfling had NO idea how creepy-awful the world could be. Well, all that stuff short circuited my thinking. When I opened my mouth stupid stuff came out.

“Why don’t you wear waterproof mascara? You look like a Betty Davis in the bad years.”
These comments made her angry. Even after I explained how Betty Davis had it all – except maybe some under eye concealer.

Like I said. Purity is complicated.

My friend with a bunch of daughters loaned me her “box set” for creating a “Purity Weekend”. What an awesome idea. Go away from the crazy home life. Just daughter and mom. Eat chocolate. Go shopping. Discuss standards and wholesome choices. When I pictured the weekend in my head, it was bathed in the orange light of sunset like a Hallmark commercial. We were holding hands, and at one point, I was pushing her on a tire swing. Yes. This was how it was meant to be. No X-rated napkins. No locker room paint. Just beauty.

Anna had just turned twelve. I told her my plans. “We’ll go away, just you and me. No boys. And we’ll have fun and we’ll talk about not having sex until you are….”
“Eeew. Can we not do that?” She cut me off midsentence. Her face screwed into a disgusted snarl. “I mean I’d like to go away with you. But not to do that.”
“Ok.” I said. “We’ll wait till you’re more mature.” I added the last part because sometimes I’m just snarky.

But really, I think I was more relieved than she was. Clearly, WE weren’t ready. My preteen was grossed out by the whole concept of sex and I was freaked out about talking about the whole concept of sex.

A year passed. Yada yada. What a year. My cute little kitten turned into a fire breathing dragon. My friend with all the daughters had warned me about this. I thought all the “teenage angst crapola” was mostly hyperbole. Wrong again, Harriet.
Clueless, I fumbled around navigating rough seas. Safe harbors were few and far between and mostly found under a Starbucks sign. Everything about me as mother was now an irritant to my first born. On slow days, I gave into poking the dragon just to watch it roar. My hard core rule is that parenting is nothing if not entertaining.

At 11 am, Anna would emerge from her Sanction 9 bedroom, half dressed and fully painted. Completely ignoring every Focus on the Family recommendation, I’d respond in a breezy voice, “Good morning darling. Did you get dressed and put on makeup in the dark again? Let me get you a light bulb.”

Like I said. She was difficult.

I briefly brought up the idea of a purity weekend. “We could go away. And talk about our standards. Why we believe what we believe. And we could get you a ring. You know. To sort of save the place…”
“Eeeew? Mom. Are you kidding?”
Wait, what? I wasn’t sure just where I was wrong. Suddenly my parenting GPS was going all rogue and driving me into vacant lots and off cliffs.
“I don’t want to wear a ring. Gross. Why do you want me to wear a ring? Don’t you trust me? Why can’t I be committed without having to make it everyone’s business?”
I stood looking into a face so familiar and so foreign. And the GPS in my head said, “You have reached your destination.” What? Where are we? When did everything get so complicated? Weren’t we just wondering if she’d ever eat anything but chicken nuggets?
Clearly, I’d missed my window. It came as small surprise to me. I’ve ruined my kids several times over. This was just the latest installment.

I still had the Purity Weekend box set from my friend. With a sigh of defeat, I put the “purity box” into the pile of things needing to be returned.

Yada yada. And now she’s fourteen. And the box was still in the pile. Because I suck. But we’ve covered that already.

This summer was a long one. My daughter wore a bikini and I collapsed on an airplane. It’s a toss-up as to which of those two experiences was most emotionally grueling. But anyway. Somewhere along the line, Anna and I started pulling a little more together. In her season of changes, I also felt a loss of traction. And frequently, letting go was the only option. It’s hard to be exhausted and snarky. Fear and stress matured me some. God is funny like that.

I looked at my daughter as she headed back to school. Ninth grade. Almost as tall as me. And I wondered. Would she ever really want to talk to me about love and sex and the pitfalls of nose piercing?

“I really want to go away with you, Mom. I don’t care what we talk about. It will be fun if we are together.”

What? Holy smokes. Now? I’m always up for a party. But all I currently wanted was a Netflix marathon and Starbucks in the form of an IV. Why am I never ready for these big parenting moments?

Given our depleted bank account and energy reserves, the beach house, mountain cabin and fancy hotel were clearly out. But Mike found us a cheap commuter room off the interstate 15 minutes from our house. Not exactly a golden sunset, but at least there were 12 miles between me and my laundry room.

We stuffed our backpacks and I grabbed the Purity Box as we headed out the door. I felt a strange quivering in my stomach. Nerves. I was nervous. Like I was on a first date!
I fumbled around trying to make conversation. Anna eyed me suspiciously. Smart girl.
We pulled up to the hotel which was located at the end of a decrepit strip mall. The lot was full and we parked in front of a defunct Korean restaurant. For a minute we stood in the rain under a giant sign that read, “BI BIM BAP and SOUP”.

“It’s like Dr. Seuss named it.” Anna said, balancing her bag on one hip.

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Instead of my Hallmark commercial, we had landed in Green Eggs and Ham. Suddenly, I was reminded of something that had fallen out of focus. I not only love this kid; I really like her.

We hurried through the mist to our bleach scented hotel room with its strange moisture-less hotel air. The Purity box had lots of CD’s in it, so I figured we’d better get started.
While Anna laid out our “provisions” I opened the box and thumbed through the manual. My heart sank. Apparently, the weekend involved all kinds of homework for the parent. “What? Are you kidding me? My homework was borrowing this box set two years ago. Seriously, there’s more?”

Lots more. All of my insecurities were instantly confirmed. What kind of mom borrows a “purity weekend box set” and doesn’t even open it for two years? My palms were sweating and I needed water. “Well, let’s just listen to the CD’s and see what we think.” My voice quivered.

We popped the CD into my laptop and the room filled with the sound of a rumbling engine. A giant voice boomed, “Ten. Nine. Eight.” Anna looked at me quizzically. The countdown continued.

The engine sound grew louder and over the din a voice shouted, “Are you ready to blast off to purity?”

Just then, my computer stalled and the room went silent. I fiddled around and couldn’t get anywhere. Probably because my hands were shaking. So I restarted the disk.
Loud engine. Ten. Nine. Eight. (Cue the voice of an exceptionally upbeat man.) “Are you ready to blast off to purity?” Sputter, silence.

Anna looked at me again. This first date was really not going very well.

“Ok.” I tried to not sound irritated. “Why don’t you fix yourself a snack and I’ll run down to the front desk and borrow a CD player.”

I ran down the hall and practically accosted the young man (he looked to be about 12) at the desk. “Do you have a CD player?”

Man-boy smiled and made a funny, sniffing sound. “Wow. A CD player? Do people still use those?”

My heart was racing. My lack of everything was ruining this weekend. Lack of farsightedness. Lack of preparation. Lack of focus. Lack of skill.

I walked slowly back to our room. Anna met me at the door. We tried one more time. Engine rumble. Countdown. Man voice. “Are you ready to blast off to purity?” Silence.
All of my frustration and fatigue pushed to the front of the line. “Gaaaah.” I flipped the laptop back across the bed and turned to face Anna who was sitting cross-legged on the floor.

“Look.” My voice cracked. “Bottom line. You have to wait.” My words were firm and lifeless and I felt like I was lifting bricks. “Don’t have sex until you are married. Don’t. Don’t do it. Just. Don’t.”

Anna looked up at me. Shocked. Mouth open. Eyes wide. And my ugly, awkward words hung in the stiflingly air. I could hear the clock on the bedside table ticking.

“Now,” I said, struggling to regain my composure. “Do you want to go swimming?”
Every judge. Every doubt. Every moment of failure. All crowded in until the room was stuffed with my inadequacy. And I looked down at my daughter and couldn’t believe how far I fallen short of being her mom.

And in that moment, Anna sprang to life. She flung herself back on her bed squealing with delight. “Mom, that was the worst Mom-talk ever!”

Stunned. I stared at her as she writhed around on the bed shouting, “Epic. So awesome!”
Utterly exhausted, I sank on to the bed with a giggle. “It was pretty horrible, wasn’t’ it?”
Instantly, Anna was up on the bed and posing over me. “Bottom line. Don’t have sex until you are married. Just don’t.” She made her best mom face and patted her hair. “Now let’s go swimming.” She collapsed again overcome with the sheer horror of her mother’s foray into the birds and the bees.

“Well, now that I’ve ruined our weekend, what should we do?”
“Well. There’s always BI BIM BAP…” she waited, gazing at me with a delicious air of expectation.
“and soup?” I responded.
“And SOUP!” she shouted throwing pillows. “Three. Two. One. Are you ready…?”
“to blast off to purity?” I answered again.
“No, to the pool!”

And that was that. I sat in the hot tub and watched her lapping the pool, astonished at the magnificent creation God was growing before my eyes. And the awful “first date” feeling melted into the bubbles.

God used my worst foot forward fiasco to set us free to be ourselves. After the swim, we did a really bad job painting our nails. We talked about life and what makes it hard. We talked about “guts” and what “guts in action” look like. And we laughed and laughed. That’s what I remember most clearly. The sweet sound of our laughter.

The next morning, we went to the mall. And we shopped and talked. We drank a lot of coffee. And somewhere along the line we bought a tiny silver ring. And sitting in our van, the rain pelting the windows, I slipped the ring on her finger. And we snuggled close. And without really planning it. Or announcing it. Or counting down to it. We prayed. Sweet. Free. And Beautiful.

As we finished, the sun came out. I’m not kidding. For just a few minutes. Brilliant and blinding. The light danced off all the water cloaked cars and puddles until the entire parking lot was transformed into a diamond gallery. It lasted just a moment before the clouds returned and the rain resumed.

We headed home. Work. School. Life. It’s hard to see around the corner and through the clouds. But I remained focused on that moment in the sun. When the monotony of a parking lot was transfigured into beauty rivaling Versailles.

God is hard to figure. If you plan for Hallmark, He sends Dr. Seuss. You search for sunset and a tire swing and He gives you a parking lot and a minivan. Urban decay and empty store fronts are just elements of redemption. He doesn’t need our “perfect plan”, or “perfect timing” or our perfect anything. He is perfection.

All he wants is room in our hearts. Room in our day. Room in our plan. He’s in the transformation business. All He requires is room to work.

A purity journey is not that different from what he asks of all of us every day. “Is there time for Me? Is there room for My plan? Is the ugliness you face just an empty building or a catalyst of my choosing?”

As I share life with a teenager, moments of clarity are few and far between. But sometimes the clouds do part. And the sunlight is stunning. Every time we hear a countdown, Anna and I share a conspiratorial smile. We haven’t nailed down everything purity related. We decided that it’s an ongoing discussion with yearly getaways to update our research. She is committed to Him. And I’m here with the coffee. The push-pull parent child relationship continues to be tricky, but less harrowing. In hard spots, one of us will usually send up our white flag, “BI BIM BAP…”

And the other will relax. And breathe. And maybe mature just a little. Before responding. “And soup.”

Love Hollylu 7< 8

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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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Vacationing with Family and Other Oxymorons

brady bunch car

I just finished off a bag of Oreos.  Yes.  The bag.  Why?  Because the cookies were in the cupboard.  Why were such clearly designated “circles of the devil” in my cupboard?  Because.   I have a car, a driver’s license, and a debit card, and I’m not afraid to use them.  And besides.  Unlike cocaine, I know how to score the “Big O”.  I don’t care what you heard at Weight Watchers.  Sometimes, you need an entire bag of Oreos.  Want proof?  My children are still alive.  And we can thank my supplier, Nabisco.

I’ve got stress, people.  Vacation stress.  I know.  Go ahead.  Hate if you need to.  Roll your eyes.  Sigh in disgust.  Vacation stress?  What a “First World” problem.  Sort of like complaining about coughing up insurance money on the third car.  Or grumbling as you get off the couch to pay the gardener.   But “problems is problems”.  And I’m in deep.  DEEP.  Two weeks sleeping in a tent with my offspring loom before me.  And I’m vacation stressed-out.  How oxymoronic.  (Actually, we as mothers are used to embracing all things moronic.  Oxy or otherwise.)  Vacation stress is REAL.  So REAL.  And there are NO support groups or self-help books devoted to the topic.  I checked.  Therefore, all of us “slightly below average mothers” are left to our own devices to survive “death by minivan”.  Nothing says “vacay” like holding a popsicle and sunscreen slathered preschooler as they barf on the side of the road from “car ickness” while the older sibs bark supportively out the window, “Hey Mom, our show won’t play with the engine off!”   Yipee.  Can’t.  Wait.

So, my sisters.  Grab your own personal contraband substance (might I suggest the stale Easter candy you’ve been hiding from the kids?), pull up a screen and join me for the first official meeting of IRDTBOVWMFSG (I’d Rather Die Than Be On Vacation With My Family Support Group).

Vacationing with family.  A benign phrase.  American tradition.  Conjuring  visions of the Brady Bunch singing merrily as all NINE of them rolled along in a station wagon.  No ipods.  No super van with drop down media system.  Just NINE of them in the car.  And no one is crying or puking or contracting some disease from eating gum off the ground at the rest stop.  And what about the Duggars?  If they can peacefully take all kabillion children on wholesome family trips to Dollywood, can it really be all that hard to vacation as a family of four?

Yes.  Yes, it can.

I would like to point out the deceptiveness lurking below the surface.  Like a ravenous crocodile.  Vacationing with family.  “Vacationing” is easy to understand.  A break.  Some time off.  A change of pace.  And “with family” that is also comprehensible.  I mean, I’ve spent over a decade “with family”.  I get that we are rather a matched set.  And I’m the designated grown up making sure we eat, and bathe, and avoid anything endorsed by the Kardashians.   I’m the MOM.  I get it.  What I really don’t get is vacationing with family AS THE MOM.

Being the mother of some highly adventurous, free thinkers, the tools of my trade include a bathtub, a fast food drive-thru, and the pediatrician’s office.  These are the essentials I use to GET THROUGH THE DAY.  A vacation involves leaving all these “helpers” behind along with the beds, the microwave, and my very best friends, washer and dryer.  And when the peeps were little, I’d leave behind something every mother knows she can’t live without.  The ROUTINE.

Husband:  Why are the kids acting up?

Me:  Well, hon.  The two year old hasn’t napped in 4 days.  He’s punch-drunk and looking for a windmill to fight.  And the five year old won’t eat your mother’s cooking because she doesn’t recognize anything not in the shape of a nugget as food.  And your mother does not believe in nuggets of any shape, size or food group.  So while staying at grandma’s house, we have all the key players to reenact the Alamo.  The kids are way, way off their schedules.   This might be the time to look for a calm, non-stimulating environment to refocus and regroup.  But since we are standing in DOWNTOWN DISNEY, the mother ship of preschool adrenalin surges, I don’t know why the kids are crazy.  Your guess is as good as mine.

Husband:   (long pause) Oh.

Getting ready for vacation goes the same way ever year.  I fuss and fidget like a squirrel in the fall with 19 containers spread across the living room floor.  It doesn’t matter what I pack.  I always forget something critical.  (One time, the TENT.  Another time, the SIX YEAR OLD.)

Eventually, the dreaded day dawns.  Like a lamb to the slaughter, I climb into the over-packed minivan.  Buckle and belt.  Check and recheck.  I gaze at the monstrous amount of stuff we have to take along to “get away from it all” and wonder what on earth filled my suitcase before I had offspring.  Seriously, what?  Lipstick?  And I turn on the obnoxiously upbeat children’s music to muffle the sounds of my weeping as we pull out of the drive way.

Deep in my bones.  I know the truth.  I’m pretty mediocre at mothering on a good day.  A day that involves using 31 appliances and the internet before breakfast.  I can’t even pack the right stuff for a two hour field trip.  And now.  I have to be a grown up and keep this brood functioning with nothing but my wits and the contents of my suitcase.  At this point, my weeping gives way to slightly hysterical giggling bordering on mania which always frightens my husband more than the tears.  Smart man.

My loving husband is amazing and compassionate, but he has difficulty wrapping his head around my “vacation stress” issues.

Eventually we reach our destination.  My face has developed a twitch.  The kids are hot and hungry.  It’s way past nap time.  My thighs are sticking together.

“This is supposed to be fun.”  My husband says as he sets up the tent like an Eagle Scout.

I stare at the back of his head.  Switch the smelly toddler in need of a diaper change to the other hip and reposition the five year old whimpering about her infected bug bites while permanently hugging my leg despite the heat.  “What makes you think I’m not having fun?”

Here’s the real deal, ladies.  Vacationing with family is 900 times harder than “regular life” because your job responsibilities do not cease to exist, but are in fact compounded by lack of resources, unidentified dangers, and no escape hatch.  And usually, there is an audience of quasi-relations ready to pronounce judgment on your parenting as your three year old goes supernova in the zoo parking lot.

Yep.  Sign me up for VACATION.

Now is the time to paint your spouse a word picture.  “Let’s say, honey, that you are at work.  Someone comes in, takes your computer and your i-phone and everything called “indoors”.  They take your pens and your file cabinet and leave you outside with a broken crayon and a paper bag.  But you still have that presentation at 3:30.  And everyone expects you to maintain your quality of work.  And your boss will be there and he has invited your critical Aunt Helen.”

And then, as your words sink in, gaze deep into his eyes and whisper, “Welcome, dear.  To the land of vacation stress.”

It seems to me that we need to change the name of this American Institution.  Instead of “Family Vacation”, I offer these more accurate monikers…

1)      How long can the toddler go without a real nap?  And do we really want to know?  And why do we always find out in front of the in-laws?

2)      See how hard Mom works at not cussing when looking for a Walgreens to replace the 9 year-olds now missing inhaler.  Deduct points if she cusses in a foreign language.

3)      The Continuing Quest to find Unicorns and/or Campgrounds with Showers.

4)      “Mom, will you hold this stuffed animal I insisted on bringing?  And will you hold it for seven hours and 3 flights?  And by the way, I will need hours of counseling if you accidentally leave it at a Denny’s in Toledo.”

5)      “Vacations are for family time.  Now stop hitting your sister.  Don’t look at her or breathe on her.  Pretend she’s not even there.”

6)      Heading to the ER because the 14 year old was too cool to wear sunscreen.  On a boat in the Ozarks.  And she’s from Seattle.

7)      “Why do you people always get strange rashes on vacation?  Why do you never get strange rashes at home?  No.  Always on vacation with the strange rash business.”

8)      “Help your brother barf into the bag and KEEP MOVING.  Sweet mother of pearl, we are not missing this flight.”

9)      Adventures with Laxatives because the Five Year Old won’t go #2 on Strange Toilets.

10)   “Dad, can you take us to the arcade?  Mom wants some free time to wash our clothes.”

It seems to me that a whole lot of stress could be alleviated by not expecting an actual vacation while on vacation.  We need to head into vacations rather like a runner preparing for a marathon.

Me:  Okay, today was a good work out.  I washed a load of ketchup and cherry snow cone splattered whites in the sink and used one burner to cook dinner for seven.

Friend:  Yes, but you have to build up.  Your vacation is in two weeks.  For tomorrow’s workout, dip the toddler in a rain puddle and roll him in sand before you have to cook dinner.  Remember, you can only use the two pots for cleaning and cooking.

Me:  Excellent.  Feel the burn, baby.

Friend:  That’s what I’m talking about!  Just wait till we simulate the poison ivy!  Epic!

Vacationing with family takes stamina, ingenuity and a secret stash of Starbucks.  My friend had to camp in the rain with four boys under seven and staved off insanity using  only a French press and a semi-squashed McDonald’s cup she found in the back seat of the van.  When the cup developed a slow leak, she sealed it with chewing gum.  Mother of the Year.  In my book at least.  I have another friend who paid a taxi to deliver a pizza in the wilds of Mt. Rainier.  “Worth every penny.”  These are my kindred.

I know the world is chock full of supermoms who have bulletin boards on Pinterest dedicated to “making crafts in airports” and “potty charts for staying regular on the go”.  And I really admire you people.  From a distance.  You see, I don’t even aspire to work harder on my vacation than I do in my every day existence.  I don’t.  I want to lie down on vacation.  And read a book.  With chapters.  What sounds relaxing to me is a whole trip where I wash only my body parts, and not in the sink at the Dairy Queen.  My dream of vacation time does not include harried trips to a pharmacy, or games of I-Spy with children just mastering colors, or any renditions of “Wheels on the Bus”.  Vacation means staying at hotels without digging through the lost and found for my son’s bathing suit (seriously still can’t figure out how the NUDE little man made it all the way back to the room).

I know.  When it comes to vacation, I’m a whiner.  Not much of a team player.  Leaving a smudge on the hallowed halls of motherhood.  I understand that I FALL SHORT.  I know the little cherubs will be grown and gone in the blink of an eye.  There will be many lonely years to languish poolside and wonder how it all went so fast.  Why did I ever stress about precious family time on vacation?

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I will see a young mother with peeps in tow.  She’ll be carrying several overstuffed beach bags and a nine month old.  Her oldest will dart for the ice machine and the three year old will stand for 10 minutes in the automatic doorway trying to get his flip-flops on the right feet.  And the mother will pause with her brood.  And I will hear something like a hysterical giggle, bordering on mania.

And I’ll slowly sip my drink with its tiny pink umbrella.  I’ll raise my glass to my sister in arms.  Carrying forth the banner of motherhood while simultaneously closing the ice machine door and fixing the flip-flop.  And I’ll drink deep until every last ounce of vacation stress slips away.

Love Hollylu 7 < 8

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Does This Chicken Suit Come in Black?

 chicken_suit_costume-vibe-vixen

This Saturday I will go to my fourth funeral in two months.  I will sit in the back.  I will stand and pray with fellow mourners.  I will wait in line to pay my respects and honor a life well lived.  I will allow the sadness of death to wash over me.  Move me to tears.  And then I will walk into the sunlight.  And drive home.

My problem with funerals is that life has only stopped for one of us.  And running out to Walmart for orange juice later that evening  feels… Well, it feels incredibly awkward.

I freely embrace my shallowness.  I avoid thinking about sad and confusing things because typically I end up feeling sad and confused.  Shocking, I know.  But as much as I try to busy myself with the mundane habits of the living, funerals force me to contemplate the inevitable end of everything.

So as I prepare for this Saturday, my mind revisits all of the funerals I have attended.  And I wonder.  How are they now?  The ones who remain.  How do they live?  Does breathing ever come as easy as it once did?  Can laundry and dishes and driving to church ever settle back into the muted colors of everyday life?

What hope is there for those who of us who walk the road behind them?  Who have yet to bury a parent, a spouse, a child?  What life after death is there for those left living?

These are the questions that percolate as I pull the black dress and sensible black heels from the back of the closet.  A quiet pondering invades my normally frenetic consciousness.  What life after death is there for those left living?

Ironically, in this season of funerals, I reunited with an old friend I’d last seen at a funeral.  Death had separated us.  The death of a child.  A daughter.  A beautiful spitfire of a girl.

Her daughter, Taylor.  Seven years old.

I was Taylor’s therapist.  Although I never did much of anything therapeutic.  For Taylor.  I may have provided some counsel and comfort to her mother, Melanie.

And for sure, Taylor and Melanie were my therapists.  Teaching me stuff no graduate school could ever convey.  Chief among the tutoring was the understanding that hope need not be reasonable, and that the communication of the heart is not limited by language.   Taylor, a child with no words, taught me joy is not earned, it just explodes when you least expect it.  But only if you have surrendered yourself to the possibility of its existence.

Taylor died suddenly.  In the night.  Found by her shattered parents in the morning.

And all of us who knew them circled the wagons.  Cleared our schedules.  And prepared for a funeral.  Our society’s process of separating the living from the dead.

I am a health care professional.  There are  boundaries we must maintain to preserve ourselves.  You simply cannot function.  Cannot get out of bed and go do a job that involves living and grief and pain and death, if you allow yourself to get too close.  You’d turn to dust and blow away.

So it was rather inexplicable to find myself calling the grieving mother and asking to speak at the funeral.

“Taylor would love that.”

 photo

And then I was caught.  Between the self I knew and the self I wanted to be.  Fierce.  Brave.  No boundaries.  Only a freedom to follow the heart, wherever it may lead.  I wanted to be a lot like, Taylor.

So I dug out my chicken suit.  Yes.  My chicken suit.  Traded shifts at work.  And with a dear friend behind the wheel, we set off to separate the living from the dead.

The memorial home was packed.  I felt like a foreigner.  I was just the therapist.  Here among the broken, devastated family.  Taylor was my patient.  Not my cousin.  Not my sister.  Not my granddaughter.

What am I doing here?  The sadness at a child’s funeral is so heavy.  There is no comfort from a life lived.  This is a life snuffed out.  Too soon.  And we all know it.  And we pull and stretch the biblical texts into some sort of buffer.  And no one says, “I’m very angry that God let this happen.”  That’s not what you say at funerals.

But the truth is that God was at the helm during her whole complicated little life.  God is at the helm at every funeral.  All things.  All things are his.

And sitting in the back with my chicken suit buried deep in a gym bag, I knew the only way to survive was to feel.  Angry. Shocked.  Broken.  And to push deeper into a God I loved.  I dare you God.  I dare you to make sense of this.

And suddenly, I was filled with joy.  With no reason.  With no purpose.  Just joy.  And I felt free.  Free to live in the face of death.  Free to let go, so I could keep.  Free to follow a God who does not limit himself to human understanding.

When the time came, I maneuvered to the front of a very full room.  Many were openly weeping.  And I looked into the faces death left behind.  My fingers grasp the gym bag so hard, I couldn’t feel them anymore.  But joy is worth the risk.  And so, with a deep breath, I said good bye.

“As we go through our days, every once in a while, we encounter a life force so concentrated, so undiluted, that we are changed by their presence.  Taylor was one such person.  Ask anyone who knew her well. Taylor was a “game changer.” 

I met Taylor when she was just a tiny peanut.  Barely a year old.  But it was clear from the moment I held her; Taylor had a lot to tell the world. 

Taylor was a soul communicator.  Her nervous system may have betrayed her, but her spirit never did.  During our first session, we sat on the floor and she sized me up with those big brown eyes.  I could clearly read her thoughts.  “Look lady.  Let’s get something straight from the get-go.  I’m in charge.”

As therapists, as health care professionals, we operate with the understanding that we come to help.  We come to teach.  We come to fix and change.  We pray to bring healing.  To restore what has gone amiss.  To regain the balance in a world askew. 

Our patients must remain our patients.  What type of therapists would we be if we fell in love with every person in our care?  We must keep some distance.  We must remain professional.  We must care but maintain the boundaries of “professional caring”.  We learn to color inside the lines.

As I worked with Taylor and her family, I gradually realized there were no easy answers to be found here.  Any plan I came up with, didn’t seem to go anywhere.  But Taylor didn’t seem upset with my lack of progress.  Just as I was about to give up, she’d lean in with her open mouth kiss, and the whole frustrating session would evaporate into joy. 

And as our relationship deepened, I slowly set down the tools of my profession.  The picture cards.  The manual signs.  The buttons and switches.  The answers weren’t coming from any of the books I’d read.

And then, Melanie sighed one day.  “I guess we’ll have to read the book of Taylor.”  And so we did. 

Although I never heard a sentence, Taylor communicated loudly!  Her message was clear.  I’m going to do what I’m going to do, when I want to do it.  We learned to set our clocks by Taylor time. 

Don’t get me wrong, Taylor may have had the face of an angel, but she had an ornery streak the size of Texas.  I’ve already referred to her has a “soul communicator” and mostly she spent her time telling me where, exactly, I could step off. 

I remember once I was trying to get her to point to picture cards.  Taylor would have none of it, and when I persisted, she took the cards, scooted over to the ball pit, and plopped them inside.

Her mother affectionately referred to her as “butt”.  And anyone who ever asked Taylor to do anything she didn’t feel like doing, soon whole heartily agreed with this moniker.  Even if we didn’t admit it out loud.

Perhaps my most favorite moment I shared with Taylor happened on Halloween.  Taylor came dressed as a chicken.  Yellow.  Fluffy.  Completely adorable.  On this day, of all the children who filled CTU, Taylor was the cutest.  And she knew it.  She rocked that costume with all the poise, confidence and flirtation of a runway model.  Parents of other children scrambled to take her picture. 

As Taylor, Melanie and I trick-or-treated around the unit, Taylor worked the building like a politician in November.  

And from this vantage point, I was better able to read the book of Taylor.  Here was someone who had no trouble communicating what truly mattered.  And somehow, even though I was supposed to be the teacher, I found Taylor and her family teaching me.

Some answers will never be found in books.  Some thoughts are too precious to be expressed in words but must be communicated by the soul.  Sometimes the short, straight line is the wrong path to take.  Sometimes it’s more important to enjoy where you are then to press on to new horizons.  Sometimes, dressing like a chicken makes perfect sense.

After my Halloween with Taylor, I didn’t even try to keep a professional distance.  The word “boundary” wasn’t in Taylor’s worldview anyway.  If she wanted to go somewhere, she did.  Even if it meant stealing away the hearts of her therapists.

As much as I tried to build a functional communication system for Taylor, I never succeeded.  However, I have rarely communicated with a patient as well as I communicated with that little sprite of a girl. 

Usually, we were arguing.  Usually, she was winning. 

The longer I knew her, the more I realized that Taylor was right all along.  Let’s not waste time on what doesn’t matter.  The world is flooded with communication no one receives.  Most of what we say slips through our consciousness without really registering.  How many people, fully capable of speech, glide through life without really connecting?  Without ever knowing, and being known by another soul.  How many of us have never stopped to examine an interesting crack in the wall, or tried to kiss a bubble as it floated by?

How many fully-abled people live without really being alive?

After reading the book of Taylor, I couldn’t see cute, little chicks without thinking of her.  It’s ironic that I associate little chicks with this amazing, beautiful girl.  Chickens, you know, have wings and yet remain flightless.  Birds equipped for journeys fate will not let them take. 

But they don’t seem particularly perplexed by the situation.  They are not angst ridden or bitter.  They simply embrace wings that flap but don’t fly.

Taylor lived inside a body that barred her from fully experiencing the world.  And yet, Taylor did not seem remotely concerned with her limitations.  She cared nothing for the timelines of others.  The agendas, the therapy goals, the IEP objectives.  Tay was intensely interested in doing what she wanted to do.  Living.  Seeing.  Doing.  Being.  She was the star in the book of Taylor and she knew it.

When Melanie told me of Taylor’s passing, I was sitting at my desk, at work.  And somehow, it felt as if the lights were dimmed.  The sun was shining, but the air was cold.  I ended up wandering home.  Wondering.  Doubting.  Unsure.

But slowly I started to recall everything I’d learned from the book of Taylor.  The memories came dancing back.  And I was holding that big eyed baby on a blue therapy mat.  And trick or treating with a fuzzy chick on Halloween, and fishing my picture cards out of the ball pit… again.  And I was laughing and crying at the same time.

And I wondered how to say goodbye to a beautiful, fierce, vibrant spirit.  How could I let her family know and the world know that Taylor was indeed a “game changer” because she had radically changed me.

And then, suddenly I knew.

A  tribute of joy.

Taylor taught us that when you can’t get around the puddle, you can at least have fun stomping through it.

Taylor taught us that boundaries are for maps but not people.  Love is limitless.  Coloring outside the lines is messy, but real.

At this point, I pulled a gigantic, yellow chicken suit out of my bag and began wiggling into it.

Taylor taught us that when you feel like lying down and quitting, it’s much more fun to kick your therapist.

Taylor taught us that communicating, being known, is beyond words and the language of hope is beyond full understanding.

She taught us to laugh, and giggle and play.   And when needed, to tell bossy people where to “step off”.

I’m standing here in a chicken suit because sometimes that’s just the right thing to do.

Good bye, Taylor.  Thank you.  Thank you for shaking it up, keeping it real, and living in joy.  The next time we’re together, you can teach us all how to fly.”

Standing in the front of the room swathed in yellow feathers, I looked up.  And in the red eyes and swollen faces I glimpsed something new.  A reflection of the joy Taylor had brought to so many.

It was then that I realized funerals are truly an opportunity to separate the living from the dead.  But not in the traditional sense.  The moment death arrived, Taylor had gone on ahead.  She was instantly more alive than I have ever been.  Free from earth’s restrictions and dancing in the presence of God.

No, funerals are not for the dead.  They are for the living.  As we sit in the pews, we have an opportunity to evaluate the corners and closets of our own lives.  To pull open the drapes and let the searchlight of eternity illuminate how much life we are actually living.  Life happens in the “now”.  How many “now” moments are we completely consuming?  How many “now” moments are we “living to the full”?  In this way, Taylor was the least handicapped person I’ve ever met.

This Saturday, I will go to a funeral to celebrate the completed life of a noble and very kind man,and I will honor him by evaluating my own.  I will separate what is living from what is dead in my cluttered heart.  I will rededicate my life to following God alone, even if it means attending funerals in feathers.  And then, I will walk out into the sunlight.  And drive home.

 

Love  Hollylu 7  <  8

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IRONy

Monopoly-Pieces

Hello.  It’s February.  How did that happen?  What have I been doing?  Oh, right.  Slow, insidious death by fifth grade science fair.  I hate science fair.  I know I am only supposed to admit to hating the devil. But, I’m pretty sure when people enter hell, they’re handed a tri-fold board and told, “I’m sorry, your hypothesis was not accepted.”

On top of science fair, the girls and I have been working like little beavers to get ready for the Girlfriends Guide in March*.  I have aptly named “deadlines”.  With the few “type A” brain cells I posses fully occupied gluing bar graphs to cardboard, it’s been hard to give deadlines their due.  In fact, I’m pretty sure my deadlines have little kitty feet so they can ninja-crouch in the dark for days before turning into giant psycho clowns with butcher knives leaping from the shadows screaming “I’m DUE tomorrow!!!”

So blogging time was taken up by “triage laundry” and midnight runs to Walmart for rubber bands and baking soda.  Did I mention how much I hate science fair?

But I was thinking.  Or as close as I come.   And watching.  And I’ve been stewing in the deep end of the pot.  And here’s what I’ve deduced.

The world’s gone cray cray.   The cheese is clearly off the cracker.  Mad.  Mad.  Mad.  Which of course, makes everything more interesting.

Top Five Signs that the world is distinctly more INSANE in 2013:

1)       Monopoly Ditches the IRON.

My heroes.  Perfect insanity.  Instead of trying to return to a standard, let’s just vote it off the island!   For years, my brothers would take the DOG, or the TOP HAT and stick me with the IRON or the THIMBLE, because I was “a girl.”  Humph.  So what if it took an extra couple decades for feminism to filter down to board games promoting total domination?   Even as a kid, I always thought instead of burning bras, us gals should have been throwing out the mop and tossing frying pans.  Now, it seems the world has caught up to my logic.  Or maybe not.  The Super Bowl halftime show was a virtual worship service to supportive undergarments.  “Girl-ness” was clearly NOT associated with intellect.  But, then on Monday following the Super Bowl, we tossed out the iron.  Crazy, funny IRONy.  Anywhoo, no longer will moms have to cringe as they listen to children trying to figure out what the tiny triangular playing piece represents.

Neighbor Kid:  “What’s that?”

My kid:  “I think they used it in olden times.”

Neighbor kid: “No, my mom has one.  She uses it for clothes.”

My kid:  “Oh.  We used to have one.  My mom used it to keep the screen door open, but it rusted on the porch, so she gave it to Goodwill.”

2)      The MAIL stops coming on Saturday.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, except for Saturday.  We don’t do Saturday anymore.” 

What a great idea.  Why not take Saturdays off?  Why didn’t I think of that?  Instead of working shifts at the hospital, carting boys to obscure junior high gyms, shivering and standing court-side because “we don’t heat gyms on weekends” or believe in bleachers at the intermediate level.  Followed by racing to another gym on the other side of town, all the while forcing my kid to compile DATA for his science fair project in the car because the minivan is clearly the perfect place for science to happen.  I wonder.  Why don’t we just TAKE THE DAY OFF?  Far be it from me to take tips from giant bureaucracy laden institutions or junior high furnace schedules, but I think they’ve stumbled onto something.

 3)      We LANCED the STANDARD, but good. 

I don’t know what you were doing when Lance and Oprah had their heart to heart.  But I was living with a ten year old boy.  Thanks Mr. Armstrong.  I simply had nothing else to do in the month of January but field a ka-billion questions about winning, losing, truth, drugs, world view, honor, and competition.  Fairy tales sometimes come true.  But mostly, they’re just fairy tales.

The interesting part is that our family got to dig a little deeper.  What created Lance Armstrong?  As a society we’ve sold out “competition” for “winning”.  The glory is for the victor alone.  Everyone and everything else is screwed, including personal integrity, moral responsibility and the love of sport.  Lance was just the tip of the iceberg.  According to the media buzz, if they disqualified all persons associated with some form of cheating competing in the Tour de France with Lance, the medals would have gone the person who finished around 38th!  Cheating has become a way of life.  Widely accepted.  “We’re # 38!” just doesn’t look good on t-shirts.

The difference between “playing to win” and “winning to play” is a hard topic for simple minds and I’m sure for ten year-olds too.   The facts and “the fall” were discussed again and again at our dinner table forums.  “Honesty” and “victory” were pulled apart and reconstructed.  Muddled and reviewed.  This additional cognitive load was plopped on top of my “science fair taxed mom brain”.  But it was worth it.  In a bleak moment when we were struggling to complete the required amount of experiment trials, it was clear to all present that we could end our misery and just LIE.

“It’s only a fifth grade science project for crying out loud.”  And Mom might have caved.  She almost did cave, so deep is her loathing of manipulated variables.    Besides, morality is mostly what other people mess up.  But then my kid and HIS DAD rallied. “We have to do it again because that’s the only right way.”  And although temporarily discouraged by science, I was amazed at the truth growing inside us all.  Especially me.

4)      Even the MAN AT THE TOP feels like throwing in the towel on Mondays.

Did you hear?  The Pope quit.  At the end of a “business as usual” meeting.  On Monday.  In Latin.   Amen.

I’m a small and insignificant person.  I’m not commenting on whether he should or should not have hung up the hat.  But the facts are more awesome than fiction.  The last time it happened was 600 years ago.  Clearly the status quo was busted.  On a MONDAY.  And he quit in LATIN.  The smart guys all around him had to scramble to catch up because 1) his resignation was not mentioned on the “official agenda” as Robert’s Rules clearly dictate and 2) it was in LATIN, the official language of Popeworld spoken by very few of the current movers and shakers in Popeworld.  Well played, Benedict.

My mind just goes back to this scenario again and again.  Regardless about how one feels about the Pope, you have to admire his incredible courage and class.  How I have longed to bust free from my status quo.  Especially in “churchworld”.  I long for agenda free living with God and God alone deciding my course.  When Monday morning demands crowd out Sunday morning promises, I tend to shut down.  This week at work I pulled my Bible out and read with abandon at lunchtime.  Something I haven’t done in quite some time.  If the man at the top can bust free, so can we.  “Is est pro licentia vos  expedio.”

5)       The School Roof is Leaking but Baseball is America’s Game.

Yesterday, the school bond failed.  By a lot.  Times are hard.  Kids can make due.  I mean, if you have to put 40 fifth graders in a classroom because there is just no room anywhere else, then that’s what you do.  Of course, we can’t understand why no one is learning very much.  Those dots are just too far to connect.  But why be glum?  Yesterday we also learned that Felix Hernandez will be making $175 million to throw a ball three nights a week for the next seven years.  Thank you, world, for clarifying our priorities.  My husband, who happens to teach 5th grade, would have to work 416 years to earn what Felix will make in 12 months.  That’s 416 science fair projects.  Why is this so incredibly funny?  I don’t know.  It’s like a really good cup of tea at the Mad Hatters table.

So there you have it.  World gone mad.  But so very interesting.  Golden boy, Lance Armstrong, has fallen from glory and his former sponsor, the US Postal Service is trying desperately to repair some deflating tires of its own.  The “iron” is out, but ogling girls in underwear is definitely in.  Good thing you don’t have to iron underwear.  The Pope’s stepping back inspired me to move forward.  Because living free always comes at a price.  And finally, I’m not sure about the science fair, but the one thing you can still learn in school is that Americans will keep playing the game.  Even if it means ransoming the future.

A few days ago, Teddy asked Annalee what “irony” was.  And Annalee responded, “It’s like you go to every store in town trying to buy hot dogs but no one has them.  And then the next day, you go to the store and hot dogs are on sale, but you don’t want them anymore.”

Well said, little Peep.  Successful living is all about knowing what you really want.  I guess more than anything, I want real change.  Ordinary people have no influence on the world’s stage.  The only effective change I can make is within my own self.  The choices I make here in the moment I’m living are all I really own.  “Now” is the scope of my influence.  The beautiful, transcending irony is that at any given moment one person making one choice can change the world.  Just ask Lance.  Or Benedict.  Or Felix.

Fascinating.   I’m going to free myself to live a big life by embracing the small moments.  The small moment is everything.  All of the power, all of the transformation, is waiting in the moment.  And not just the world, but eternity hangs in the balance.

Love  Hollylu  7<8

*The Girlfriends’ Guide to Getting Real with God is an out “out of the box” life application bible study for women.  The study features live teaching, YouTube magic, and lots of coffee.  Perfect for the overworked and under rested who desire deeper relationship with God.

Girlfriends Guide to Getting Real with God  Lighthouse Christian Center, Thursday nights, 6:30 – 8:30.  March 14th – June 6thChildcare provided with advanced registration.  Registration now open at lighthousehome.org   More information available at Hollylucoon.com

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Angry at Christmas

A few weeks ago, in a town very far from my home, twenty children were murdered in their classrooms.  I was on my way to a Christmas party when I found out.

Somewhere, at that very moment, mothers and fathers were running from place to place.  Desperately searching.  Hoping against hope.  Waiting for their hearts to start beating again.

I turned off the television and went to the party.

That afternoon, I picked my kids up from school.  I looked full into their big blue eyes.   I could feel my heart beating.  “Thank you for coming home.”  That’s all I could say to the innocent.

I started the car and played the Christmas music too loud.  If only we could drive away from the real.  Evil had climbed from the shadows into the morning light of our middle class, American dream.  And the lambs lay riddled with bullets.  And the offender lay dead beside them.

This was the truth.  Not a movie.  Not a novel.  But life.

Where was God?  My God.  He is mighty.  And a deep lover of the innocent.  Where was he this morning?

In control.  He had not slipped.  Or blinked.  Or been caught unaware.  This was also truth.  God is sovereign.

On this hand, we have twenty children ripped from the world by one evil act.  On the other hand, God was, and is, and always will be, the author of life.  These two truths are highly combustible when stored in the same cognitive space.

So I nailed all the doors of my brain shut.

That evening, we drove to church.  The kids were performing in a Christmas play.  They sang and danced and promoted a holiday that celebrates God’s light come into the world.  The words were simple.  Inviting.  “God with us.  Abide in us.”

The message of Christmas.  God’s light is for everyone.  If only we would open this gift.

I wanted to settle into the moment.  To celebrate the truth of these songs.   But  I felt a chill.  I felt guilty.  Looking at a stage brimming with beautiful, unmarred faces.  What had I ever done to deserve such  a lavish blessing?

And my heart whispered.  “What is she doing?  The mother who knows her daughter is lying dead, but looks for her anyway?”

My tall, beautiful boy was singing and dancing in the middle of the pack.  Shining eyes.  He believed the words coming from his mouth.

And I did too.  But I’m not innocent.  And I’m not very deep or strong or smart.  And doing the math it takes to believe in a loving, all powerful God on the same evening that Evil strikes such a powerful blow is physically gut wrenching.

So I nailed the doors of my heart shut.

I was grateful for the Christmas bustle.  No time to think.  If I think, I will weep.  December 14th had illuminated the abject shallowness of my “high priority” to-do items.  But I pressed on.  Unfortunately, I’m a champion at completing “brainless” activities with absolutely no heart.

Before Sandy Hook, my defenses were already weak.  One of my dearest, oldest friends was praying with me in November.  Her husband had a “side ache”.  We laughed.  He’s probably just out of shape.  It was nothing to be sure.  But just in case, better see the doctor.  Just in case, we better include it on our prayer list.  In less than two weeks, there was no traction in my prayers.  Like kicking a benign stick out of the path to find a cobra sprung to life.  Stage four cancer.

And then, a few days before Thanksgiving, a friend’s daughter walked into a gymnastics practice.  Random, freak accident.  And now, the world is askew.  She is paralyzed from the chest down.  At fifteen.   How many hundreds of times have I dropped my kids off at practice?  I take for granted they will walk back to my car.

I take so much for granted.  So much.  I just trust that things will work out.  Don’t we all?

Honestly, most of the time, I just trust that life will be good.  Rather blind faith.

I bustled and jostled through the waning December days like the log ride at the fair.  Moving, eating, sleeping.  The mall.  The Santa line.  The parties.  The platitudes.  People often ask me to lead in prayer.  Because I’m not shy about how much I love my God.  I wanted to gather all these “fellow believers” close.  Like the way we used to hug in college.  And ask, “Why do we believe these things?  Do we really, really believe them?”

But we’re not encouraged to say these things out loud.  It’s not what “good Christians” do.

However, at night, alone with myself, I’d sneak up to the sealed up doors in my brain and heart and feel the heat.  A fire raged just on the edge of conscious thought.  Successful as I was during the day, wrapping presents and buying cookies, I couldn’t chase these questions away at night.

If my husband, so much the source of my strength, was stricken on Monday, would I be thanking God on Tuesday? 

If my child, my heart and soul, was altered in a “freak accident”, would I continue to not only acknowledge but follow a God who claims to be “always at the helm”? 

And, here’s the kicker.  If my peeps were struck down in a hailstorm of bullets in the very place I sent them for nurturing, could I continue to believe my God to be loving and just?

And the weakness of my faith was more terrifying than the evil lurking in the shadows.

I pushed my Bible away.  I pushed it all away.  I let the Christmas lights and 30 second Advent readings buoy me along.  And I made it all the way to Christmas night.

As I turned off the tree the doubt flooded in.  Is this what Christmas really is?  An exercise?  A convention?  A socially driven community thread?  Is it over now?  All things end.  We will put the decorations back in the box.  The CNN coverage of the funerals will give way to other news.  Do we just go back to living?  Back to blindly trusting it will all work out?

The house was dark.  And my heart was darker still.

Blindly believing is for idiots.

I am no more guaranteed that things “will just work out” than were any of those parents in Connecticut.  So if I’m going to believe, my faith must not be blind.   I must pull these thoughts from the deep recesses of night into the light of day.

I’m angry with God.

There.  I said it.

And so I stand before all I know to be true and ask.  Why, God? 

Six and seven year-olds, Lord.

Where were you?  How could you let this happen?  If evil must exist, why not allow the gun to take the mother and father as well.  Why must they live in a world and cry out for children who will not answer?  This is so hard to understand, God.  How can this be?

I will never have the innocence, strength or wisdom of Job.  I’m rather lousy at being a “good soldier”.  I don’t take direction well.  I need to know why I believe what I believe.  I want to know in whom or what I am trusting.   I am only myself.

Alone in the dark, I rant at God.

Like a foolish child, I wish for December 14th to be erased.

Why?  For the parents, of course.  But also, deeper still.  So that I can go back.

Back to what?  To innocence.  But also, to blindness.  To blind trust.

For someone with so many questions, I am surprised by this revelation.   There is much I don’t question.  Don’t even think of questioning.   This is sobering in the dark.  My faith is quite blind.

Each day, I take so much for granted.   I get out of bed and walk across the floor on two legs that work.  Blindly accepting.  I go to a job and earn money for food and electricity and a lot of stuff I don’t need all that much.  Blindly accepting.  I quibble with my kids about lost shoes and excess laundry, blindly accepting they will be there tomorrow for more quibbling.  My husband, kind and patient, the straightest arrow I know.  Each night, he comes home to me.  Blindly, I accept this as a given right.

Blind.  Blind.  In my blindness, I accept all these things.  I accept all of this comfort and love as my baseline.  This is life as it should be.

And what drives me to blindly live?

I’m busy.  I’ve got stuff to do.  Places to be.  Television to watch.  The shallowness of this thought surprises even me.  So I take a deeper look.

Why live blindly?

A broken, selfish heart and a wayward, shortsighted intellect.

In summary, my lazy soul.

I pace around in the blackness of the living room.  A lazy soul.  I know a good God.  I belong to him.  I’m through the pearly gates, right?  What else is required of me?  So I live, consuming His goodness like an unfeeling vacuum.  Until, I choke and sputter on December 14th.  This slaughter of lambs incenses my spirit.  Riles up a long dormant sense of justice.   And I wake from my blindness to question.

Who are you, Lord?

I feel exposed and raw before God.  I’ve shaken my fists and stomped my feet.  And I’m waiting for answers that make sense.

And I wonder.  To wake up.  To consider each day as part of the equation.  To consciously know that my husband’s footsteps outside my door are not a given.  To see the daily toil, strain and stress as a crazy beautiful dance with twenty four hours to perform it.  To breathe in and out and know that the air in my lungs is a gift from God.

Why am I not doing this?

It takes effort.  And work.  A bending of one’s inner nature to the greater One.   A working out of the faith.  To open my eyes to the realness of God, this takes a conscious surrender.  My blindness robs me of the ability to keep a proper account.  Laziness clouds my vision from seeing God at work.

The greater evil here is that I’ve labeled things incorrectly.  Sandy Hook is the baseline.  Cancer, illness, corruption is life as it is.  The planet is wounded and broken.   Mothers will cry out for children who lie dead.  Sickness and disease and meaningless accidents will rob and kill and destroy.  This is real.

I am weeping now.   The doors I’ve nailed shut are burst open and I can feel.  And mourn.

And hope.

I remember the words to the song my son sang on December 14th.

“God with us.  Abide in us.”

Abide in me.  The only cure for my anger, my questions with God, is to devote myself more fully to living a conscious faith.  To not give in to being lazy and blindly flowing along until the raft starts taking on water.  To wake each morning keeping a full account of God’s movement in my heart, my life, this world.  To collect a better representation of the data.  And in doing so, to build a house upon the rock that will not be shaken.

I’ve seen this rock.  In a father as he spoke on Sports Radio of hope that sustains and lifts his family and his gymnast daughter even as she lay facing a new world from her hospital bed.  I’ve felt this rock, in my friend’s prayers as she described being in a giant room filled with God’s grace as the storm of cancer raged somewhere outside.  And I’ve been overwhelmed by this rock, as a devastated father stood before a speechless nation and forgave the man that murdered his daughter.

I want my life to be here.  On the rock.

In the dark, I plug in the Christmas tree once more and the room is filled with light.  The shadows exist in the corners, but only for a time.

Matthew 4:16

The people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

Love,   Hollylu  7  <  8

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