Tuesday, August 20, 2013

leaning in

It's been what I like to call a Habakkuk season in my life.  In fact, last night I reread Habakkuk along with 1 Thessalonians.  Here's the Cliff Notes version of Habakkuk:
H: God, what are you up to?  These people who claim to know you are acting awful, and you don't seem to notice.
G: That's okay, I'm going to raise up even more awful people to destroy those people.
H: Ummmm... God?  That doesn't seem very righteous.
G:  I'm really awesome, and let me tell you how much I hate sin.
H: Wow.  I don't get it, but I'll trust you anyway.
When I get to the point when life doesn't seem to make sense, I always come back to Habakkuk.  I read it a lot.

Adjusting Quinn back to early mornings for school is like trying to wake an angry bear two months early from hibernation.  Every day.  It's emotionally exhausting.  Add to that jumping back into teaching high school, which can best be described as interactive improvisation with a captive hormonal audience, and I've been exhausted.  Then throw in an intense personal life that has me feeling drained of every last smidgen of emotional stability, and it's no surprise that I've cried multiple times every day for the past two weeks.  You know it's bad when I'm crying at Taylor Swift songs at 6:30 in the morning and reruns of The West Wing while running on a treadmill.  There's no chance I'm going anywhere near the Hallmark card isle right now, that would invoke reactions too embarrassing even for me.

So what is up with Habakkuk?  I didn't like that book the first time I read it.  If you just read the words, then it doesn't really make sense.  Why would Habakkuk suddenly become okay?  I thought he had a pretty good point that God's actions don't seem to make sense or really fit into his character.  But what really gets me is that God never really answers his questions, and I don't like that because I have a lot of questions, and I want answers, and they need to be better than the ones he gave Habakkuk.  For sure.

Brene Brown (just had to work her in again) talks about the need for certainty being one indicator of our fear of vulnerability.  Bet you're squirming in your seat after that sentence.  Wholehearted people have learned to live without certainty.  Another ouch.  But she also talks about leaning into the difficult emotions of fear, grief, and uncertainty as being healthy.  That is the tension of Habakkuk, leaning into the fear and uncertainty while accepting that there is no good answer here.

For months after we lost our daughter, my only prayer was to know that God loved me.  I knew there were no satisfying answers.  No matter how God redeems grief, there is no good answer for why things like that happen.  Ever.  And anyone who tries to give you an answer should be immediately punched in the face.  Immediately.

But knowing there isn't an acceptable answer is exactly why I need to press into God and ask the questions.  At some point it occurred to me that Habakkuk's answer isn't in God's words, it's in his presence.  God doesn't say anything particularly different in Habakkuk.  In fact, God spends most of the Bible repeating himself.  But God shows up when people really ask, maybe not immediately and maybe not how we expect, but he shows up.

Sometimes asking the questions, though, feels like leaning off the edge of the roof and hoping the wind holds you up.  Just asking the questions often feels like opening the whirlwind of crazy hiding out in my head.  And if I open the door to my crazy, I may not be able to close it again.  I'm not always willing to take that risk.

So I read Habakkuk and shake my head and pray for God to show up because I just don't understand a whole lot of things.  This crazy joy that floods my heart doesn't push out the grief.  In some strange way it makes the grief deeper and harder, even though those emotions coexist with joy in some bizarre harmony.  It's the joy that helps me lean into the grief, like an anchor that helps me know that even if I fall off that roof and unleash my crazy, God will show up.

Monday, August 12, 2013

feeling 12

Sometimes I'm convinced life is a bad imitation of middle school.  I had one of those moments this week where I felt like I was the awkward girl in a Mean Girls movie.  So I've been channeling my awesomely awkward middle school self that shrinks away in shame whenever that happens and giving her a little extra love.  She convinced me to buy the latest Taylor Swift album.  Judge away.  I won't be able to hear you anyway because my middle school self is singing off key and dancing around the house.  Three cheers for learning to take myself much less seriously.

  I've been reading this book lately.  Go buy it.  Now.

In fact, you can go buy it here.  Seriously.  Buy it and then keep reading.

Read this.

Notice my great little earmark labeled blog.  Yep.  I'm a nerd.  I've been photographing pages and sending the pics to friends, posting them on Facebook, and pulling out the book and showing it to pretty much everyone I meet.  I'm going to have considerably fewer friends in the future.

But seriously.  This book is like the manual to the last 17 years of my walk with Christ that I needed but didn't have.  And it's not even a religious book.

On the page prior to the one above, she goes into the difference between the Greek words for happiness and joy.  Happiness connotes the freedom of the wealthy from the cares of everyday life.  Joy is defined as the culmination of being that comes with virtue and wisdom; Joy is the most difficult of virtues to achieve.  Now reread he page above with those definitions.

Mind blowing.

The connections between joy, vulnerability, gratitude, and courage are so obvious.  At least in hindsight.  But being vulnerable and grateful means facing our fears of failure, scarcity, not fitting in, and not finding certainty.  Maybe that's what Jesus means when he says you have to lose your life to find it. My last seventeen years have been an exercise in losing control over my life, and I'm in love with what I'm finding.

A friend of mine in Chicago runs these great workshops called Fear Experiment. I love the premise of getting strangers together to push through their fears.  It is amazing how leaning into and embracing your fear can be transformative.  The past few years have forced me through a number of personal fear experiments I would never have chosen, but lately I've embarked on a few of my own fear experiments just to see what happens.  I'm sure I'll write more about those as I learn from them, but for now I'll just leave you wondering what they are.  

In a previous blog I talked about the tender shoots of joy beginning to poke up out of the soil, but I was greatly mistaken.  Joy, when it takes off, is nothing like the tulips poking out in the spring ready to whither at the first hint of frost.  No, joy is like that %#@&! virginia creeper that springs up everywhere and seems to live off air.  Once rooted, it can be clipped and trimmed by the mean girls, but never eradicated.

So bring on the cheesy middle school songs and my awkward middle school self and ridicule all you want.  I won't care because I'll be the one dancing.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Nothing can undo seventeen years worth of sanctification like teaching your son to ride a bike.  All I have to say is that there were lots of mutterings at God for making me do this alone and lots of praises when the task was complete because I didn't want to revisit that part of myself anymore.

Saturday would have been my 11th wedding anniversary, and though I sat down to write something, I couldn't find any words.  The day passed with lots of cleaning and some hang time with a dear friend, and I almost forgot what day it was.  Almost, but the day wasn't sad, in fact it was more characterized by wholeness and deep joy.  Unlike when I tried to open a pickle jar yesterday and nearly had a meltdown at God for taking away my husband because now there was no one in my life to open the pickle jars.  At least I have my grief priorities figured out.  Sheesh.

Earlier this summer, I dropped by to visit Emmett's grave and wept when I found the Cheerwine bottles I left last year still there, one empty and one full.  Sometimes life gives you metaphors so obvious an English teacher would cringe at the tackiness.  But it occurred to me that in reality I was the empty bottle, not the full one, and that fullness doesn't come here, at least not completely anyway.

Lately I feel surrounded by a number of friends who are under attack. I find myself coming to God in prayer, simultaneously deeply burdened yet completely helpless.  Sickness, divorce, single parenting, depression, grief, money problems, loneliness... these are just a few of the things weighing heavily on some of the people I love most.  One friend recently joked that it felt like a quarter-life crisis.

In another conversation recently a different friend said something like, "I guess people just aren't as nice as I thought they were." I can't escape the haunting idea that we carry a deep grief about the injustice of sin in the world with no idea how to process it, starting when we realize that this life isn't what we hoped for or what we were promised.  My own grief has been so great for so long that I'm only just now feeling able to breathe for the first time in years.

I suppose we don't have to process this grief. We could ignore it, pretend it doesn't exist or try to cover it up or medicate it away with careers, money, alcohol, etc...  There are plenty of distractions or excuses to keep us busy.  Only I had no choice.  I was given grief so staggeringly large that I had no choice but to face it head on.  And I'm just now realizing the deep mercy in being forced to face what I would rather have buried.

People had told me the second year of grief would be worse, and I think I finally understand why.  The second year of grief is when you grieve the expectations you had for your future: the children, careers, anniversaries, and lives you hoped to have.  I kept reciting Ephesians 6:13 to myself: "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand."  I have been to the point where all I could do was stand.  In the past year I have been emptied of every hope and longing.  Not that I don't still have hopes and longings, but I have given up my delusions of control and my expectations that I will get what I want.  And I find in the emptiness an inexplicable joy.

I'm newly obsessed with Johnnyswim, and I love their latest single, Heartbeats.  My favorite line is, "I've got Heaven locked up in these bones, Oh I feel you coursing through my veins like fire."

So when I am forced to confront my old self, like teaching Quinn to ride a bike, I can honestly say I no longer want to return there.  Egypt no longer holds any appeal for me.  I have stood.  And in standing, I have found that if you stand long enough, there will eventually be space to dance, especially in your kitchen while you're cooking.  It feels good to be made into the new me and to see the promises of scripture being fulfilled in my heart.  For the first time in my life, I can say I love the person God made me to be, and I'm excited to be better acquainted with her.  That has been my hope in grief, and I have not been disappointed.