community

Holding My Truth Close (for now)

I know, it’s been a while. It’s been almost a year since I’ve written anything other than a few journal pages here and there. Life has brought about so many changes this past year – getting settled in Louisville, finding a church that serves a diverse population and seeks to live pure love in our community, seeing relationships damaged and smoothed over but still seeking healing, working in a job that almost crushed my soul, finding a job that is a good fit and feeds my soul, building new friendships and finding ‘my people’, having friendships strained and tested as we move toward different world views in this ever-changing political climate, realizing that as much as I want to be loving and open I am really scared and selfish, watching tragedy hit my small circle and having our lives turned upside down.

These are all important topics, worthy of writing and sharing. Love, abuse, betrayal, forgiveness, social justice, racism, truth, lies, spirituality, boundaries, passion, purpose, friendship, reconciliation, depression, suicide, mourning, healing, joy, service, and community. Valuable lessons learned, our hearts have grown and we will never be the same. But I can’t write about any of that. Not yet, anyhow. I’ve been trying to figure out how to write my truth, the truth that is blossoming in my heart through the lessons I have learned with family, friends, fellow lovers of Christ, my community, and those with whom my broken heart is grieving. But to share these stories, to share MY story, is complicated. To share my truth involves sharing other people’s truths as well, for they are all connected. And I haven’t quite figured out how to share my truth without betraying another’s truth. So until I figure out how to navigate those waters, I have decided to write about something else. 

To enter back into the world of writing, and in many ways, the world in general, I am going to write about my Next Big Adventure. This life in Louisville has offered us some new opportunities, and consequently I am about to embark on the trip of a lifetime. A three-week trip around the world – one week in Paris, one week in southern Germany, and one week in India. And I want to share it with you. It’s going to be a whirlwind trip, but I will try to write as I have time. Come with me – Adventure is out there!

 

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When You’re Just Not Feeling the Joy

This morning I woke up with a pit in my stomach. It’s one of those mornings when things just feel off, and my heart is unsettled. Often I can pinpoint the cause, but sometimes it eludes me. I will try to distract myself or medicate it away with sleep, sugar, caffeine, mindless tv, or more sleep. I think this feeling is not uncommon, particularly as we get close to the holidays.

It’s supposed to be a joyous time of year, but sometimes we just don’t feel like rejoicing. Is there something wrong with us?

Let’s look at the messages we are taking in. We are bombarded with commercials that tell us that we are unhappy and that our lives are less than perfect unless we buy a certain product. On social media, people are posting holiday pictures and discussing family, but for many, it is not a happy time of year, and it can be magnified when we feel like everyone else around us is happy and festive. And to be honest, the state of the world and the amount of social and political unrest is unsettling, particularly as things become more and more divisive.

We can feel uneasy or unsettled at any time, not just during the holiday season. So this morning I am going through my mental checklist, because if there is something significant and I don’t deal with it, it will show its ugly head later, so it’s best to just deal with things now, if I can. Perhaps this checklist will be helpful for you as well. Here are some things to think about when you’re feeling unsettled and you don’t know why:

  1. Do I have unrealistic expectations for the holidays? Am I looking for THIS holiday season to make up for any unpleasant or unsatisfactory experiences I had growing up or in the past? Or is it something more basic, not necessarily connected to the holidays?
  2. Is it a gnawing conscience? Sometimes when there is this uneasiness in my heart, it’s because I’ve said or done something hurtful or insensitive, and I need to make amends. Have I been hurtful, unkind, or insensitive? Do I have unfinished business with someone, and my heart isn’t letting me ignore it?
  3. Is it shame? Did I say something out of turn, or behave in a way that I wish I hadn’t? Is it legitimate shame (where I have truly done something that I shouldn’t have) or is it misplaced shame, put on by myself or others, to make me feel ‘less than’? Is this a sign that I am looking for significance in the wrong place, or letting outside forces determine my worth?
  4. Is it undiscipline? Am I putting off a duty or responsibility that I need to be working on? Am I distracting myself from some things that must be done with things that are unnecessary? Am I spending time on things that I call ‘time sucks’ – like social media, Pinterest, mindless tv, binge-watching Netflix, etc – rather than prioritizing the important things that I should be doing?
  5. Am I not setting good boundaries? Have I said  “yes” to something because I felt obligated rather than called to do something? Have I said “No” to something or made excuses when my heart knows I really should have said yes? Have I let someone have more power in my life than they should? Am I allowing another’s actions or words to affect my sense of self?
  6. Am I placing my sense of personal significance in the wrong place? Am I basing how I feel about my own worth on the opinions of others? On whether or not I have convinced them how awesome I am? On how many likes or comments or views I get? On whether or not someone agrees and supports my opinion? Am I comparing myself or my experience with others online (whose real lives are likely completely different from what they portray online)?
  7. Am I connected and in community? Do I have people with whom I can share my heart? Am I lonely and missing loved ones? Is there unresolved grief? Is there loss that might feel particularly strong at this time of year?
  8. Am I living my purpose? Am I just going through the motions, or am I living a meaningful purpose, fulfilling what only I can do in this life? Do I know what makes my life meaningful? (okay, getting a little too deep, time to move on to the basics)
  9. If you still cannot pinpoint what’s causing you to feel unsettled, look at the basics: Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthy foods? Are you eating too much sugar (studies show sugar withdrawal mimics depression)? Are you getting outside and getting some exercise? Are you spending time in the sun? (or if it’s dark where you live, are you getting enough vitamin D?) Are you drinking enough water? Are you spending time with those you love? Are you working too much? Are you practicing good self-care? Are you spending time each day having fun? When was the last time you laughed? If you’re a spiritual person, are you staying connected spiritually by praying, reading, meditating?

Often just thinking about and labeling the cause will help to put things in perspective. It also helps me to talk to a friend – sometimes just processing things out loud helps you see things in a different light. I’ve found that sometimes the answer is as simple as taking a break from social media. I don’t think people realize the amount of angst it can create until you step away for a time.

Sometimes the feeling of being unsettled can signal anxiety or depression. This can be temporary, but if the feeling doesn’t dissipate, you may need to look at outside help and get some counseling and see a medical doctor. If you need to seek help, do it. You’re worth it.

Wishing you a holiday filled with love. And joy.

 

Unsettled. And It’s a Good Thing

Please excuse this stream of consciousness – it’s the middle of the night and I am processing.

I am unsettled.

It’s 2:30 am and I am lying in bed in a hotel in Chicago. Having worked Tuesday night, I went home and slept two and a half hours, then hopped in my car and drove the long and boring five-hour drive from Louisville to Chicago. I was able to get to bed early in preparation for the conference tomorrow, but I woke up at 2am. My sleep is off, my brain won’t shut down, and my heart is unsettled. I am living another part of my dream – when we sold our house and moved to Louisville, I told my husband one of my dreams was to attend the Storyline conference again, this time from the perspective of a writer. So I signed up for the whole works – dinner with Don Miller, the full conference experience, and an extra day with a workshop on how to tell a better story.

Since the first time I attend this conference (almost two years ago), so much has changed. I’ve seen old dreams die, and new dreams come true. I started two blogs, I have started writing again, and we have moved across the country, far from our friends and family, and are slowly building a new community. In preparing my heart for this conference, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the past years, particularly since the last conference.

Before that conference nineteen months ago, there were seeds planted in my heart. The speakers I heard and the things I learned watered and nurtured those seeds and I saw them sprout and start to grow.  My dream of retiring and becoming part of a close neighborhood community was reborn into a dream of buying an old house in downtown Vancouver where people could come, gather around the table, or sit with a cup of coffee and talk about life in a safe place. That dream died, or at least changed. We left our family and friends and moved 2300 miles away. We now have the house and the table is waiting for guests, but we are tasked with bravely building a new community from scratch in a city where we knew no one. Those seeds were planted, and it has been amazing to see them grow and change.

This year, I feel I am getting ready to harvest some of those dreams. As with the last conference, seeds were planted long before I got here.

And as I am typing this, I feel the tension of a new dream being born. And that scares me, but it’s also thrilling. And scary. And even more scary.

I feel big changes coming. Haven’t I had enough big changes this year?

In getting my heart ready for this conference, I looked again at the “Creating a Life Plan” curriculum from Storyline. I love this exercise – I would like to take the whole world through it! After writing my positive and negative turns and plotting them on a timeline, the theme was so evident. Through childhood, restless youth, and  a broken and restored marriage. Through miscarriages and infertility, the loss and restoration of a prodigal son, and through the season of empty nest. As a wounded member of the church and the Church, and now with this move and huge life change – it is evident.

He rescues and restores us from a hopeless place.

That is so evident as the theme of my life in this season. And I know God is going to use our story, as he has in the past, to bring hope to those who feel hopeless. To bring light in the darkness of despair. To help those who are so blinded with the inconsistencies of what they see in the Christians who are so engaged in political and moral self-righteousness that they have forgotten the core of Christianity – Love one another – I want to help shine the light. And I know this is part of my story. But here I am. Unsettled again. Feeling the labor pains of a new dream being born.

The next part of Creating a Life Plan involved looking at the roles in your life, and defining them, then setting a goal or ambition for each role. This, along with identifying a theme of your life, is meant to help provide a focus and a filter. Aside from my role as a spiritual being, the five roles I identified were: Wife, Family member (broad, I know, but it includes mom, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, and niece), Friend, Neighbor (includes my immediate physical neighborhood as well as work and extended family), and Creative (writer, etc). Narrowing these roles and identifying goals for each helped to confirm the message that has been poking at my heart.

I don’t remember when, but in the past year or so I read about the wife of a prominent worship leader and author who had been a popular Christian blogger and I believe a speaker as well. She had multitudes of followers on social media, but after some events in her life, decided to leave it all behind. She closed her popular blog and basically left social media to focus on her community. Not her community of followers, but her actual physical community – her family, her friends, her church. Something about this really appealed to me.

Then recently I was listening to author Shauna Niequist speak about something similar. She is a popular Christian author and speaker, but she felt that things had become unbalanced. She decided to reevaluate her time and energy, and to keep her family and her close community a priority, even if that meant disappointing her larger community (social media, and her agent). Basically she said – if I am not as loving and present with my people as I am on stage or with my social media community, what good is that? I am not explaining it clearly (thank you, sleep deprivation), but hearing her talk about her change in priorities only served to confirm what has been on my heart.

I want to love my people better.

And to do that, I am thinking I need to close my circle.

By that, I mean concentrating on my five roles, and my goals in each of those roles, and letting everything else go.

What will that look like? I don’t know, but I am getting some clues. I think it is going to mean a big change in social media. I love keeping in contact with friends, co-workers, and family from back home. But how much of my energy is going to maintaining a relationship with friends from high school or people I worked with ten years ago. I enjoy that, but in terms of a greater purpose, what does that mean. Not to mention the time I spend on social media. If I want to concentrate on my ‘small circle’ and really love them well, what will that mean? How will things change? Am I spending more time reading an ex-co-worker’s blog or being part of a Facebook group of 10,000 dreamers than I am loving my next door neighbor who had surgery yesterday, or practically loving my sons who are living in all corners or the world, or writing a card or letter to my brother on his anniversary, or finding time across the miles and time changes to talk to my best friend on the phone? Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying that my co-worker’s blog or Facebook group are not good things. But are they the BEST things at this time in my life? I do not want to sacrifice best things to good things.

With limited resources of time and energy, how can I best build and love my tribe, my people, my small circle?

And if I am looking to focus on my small circle, what does this mean for my dream to write?

I don’t know that answer. But I have a feeling I will get closer to the answer this weekend. Unsettled is a good thing.

 

 

Three Ingredients for a Meaningful Life

“I wanted my life to count for more. I wanted deeper relationships. I wanted to touch the hearts of others. And so I began my search for a meaningful life. These three things are helping me find my dream and live a more meaningful life.”

*this post is part of my #write31days series Dare to Dream: Finding Your Dream Again

Many years ago we had moved to a new town and were getting settled with our two young boys, then ages 2 and 6 months, and I was lonesome. I was a young mom and we had finally found a home church, but I was so unsure of myself. I was 26-year-old stay at home mom, and I had no idea who I was or who I was supposed to be. It seemed that all the other moms had it all together – always dressed to the nines, hair perfectly in place, kids sitting quietly at the pew. In the meantime, I had one kid is screaming in the nursery, and the other one yelling “My penis itches!” in the middle of prayer. So much for having it together.

To be truthful, I really didn’t want to be friends with the women who had it all together (at least I thought they had it all together). People who smile too much make me suspicious (you know, those people who smile even when they’re angry? I don’t trust them). I knew I could never measure up, and it would be too much pressure. But my heart longed for a friend, for grown-up conversation, for someone to share my heart with in these early days of mommyhood.

 

During those early days, I attended a funeral for a woman from church. I didn’t know her, but I was helping serve the meal afterwards, so I came early and attended the funeral. As I listened to family and friends review her life, I was struck not by what she had done or even who she was, but how she loved. I heard story after story about how she had loved her friends, shown up in times of need, and given of herself for others. Not for a salary, not for recognition, but just because of who she was. I thought long and hard after that funeral – what kind of friend am I? What will people say about me after I’m gone? Am I making an impact on the lives I touch, or am I just existing and surviving? I knew that I was just surviving. That I was waiting for life to come to me, I was waiting for people to invite me into their lives, but I wasn’t making an effort to love others. I wasn’t reaching out. And that day, I determined that

I wanted my life to count for more. I wanted deeper relationships. I wanted to touch the hearts of others.

That was almost thirty years ago, and I’m still learning every day what it means to love others.

If you have read any of my essays, you know I am a fan of author Donald Miller, who wrote Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. And subsequently, I have fallen in love with Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. From his experiences living and observing others in Nazi concentration camps in WWII, Viktor Frankl developed many theories on man’s motivation to live a meaningful life. As he developed a framework of existential therapy called logotherapy, he theorizes that there are three “main avenues” which one must take to find meaning in life.

“The first is by creating a work or doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love  . . . Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life; even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by doing so change himself. He can turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, Postscript 1984, Viktor Frankl)

Donald Miller has utilized these lessons in his Storyline ministry, helping people live more meaningful lives, and more practically, developing a life plan. He applies Frankl’s work and explains it a little further, giving practical steps to finding your dream and living a meaningful life.

The three crucial ingredients in finding a meaningful life:

  1. Meaningful work or a project. Working towards something that is bigger than yourself that brings meaning not just to your life, but to your world. This is something that is unique to each individual. It may be what you do as a career, or it may be something apart from your regular job. Often this is something that only you can do, based on your unique life experience and your own special gifts and talents.
  2. A loving community. I am not talking about your 400 Facebook friends. These are friends that you live life with, who love you unconditionally. We were made to live in community. We need to surround ourselves with friends with whom we can share our heart on a regular basis. Friends who ‘get’ us. To live a meaningful life, we need to walk alongside friends who love us as we are but also encourage us to grow beyond who we are. These are the friends who will be gathered around your deathbed.
  3. Our suffering redeemed. Frankl states that we need a change in perspective on the suffering or tragedies that have occurred in our lives. Turning tragedies into triumphs is the key is survival and also learning from that pain, and using it for a greater purpose. To build a meaningful life, we can take those difficult times and not let them destroy us, but use them as a tool to build a better life.

Living the Dream (or How Donald Miller’s Words and the Storyline Conference Shaped My Path) 

*please forgive my accidental post earlier. I was trying to save what I had written and accidentally pasted a text to our real estate agent. Yikes!

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I haven’t written in a while.
Quite a long while.

In the past six months the whole direction of my life has changed and I’m very excited to tell you the story. There has been an upheaval in our family, in our home, and in our hearts. 
I believe it all began a number of years ago when I read Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It was a time in my spiritual walk where I was lost. Dissatisfied. Hungry for more. Blue Like  Jazz was the type of book one reads with a huge sigh of relief – finally someone had put into words how I was feeling. It made my heart come alive with hope. This book gave me the courage to think outside the box, to question, to tell myself it’s okay to be hungry for more – for truth, for love, for community. It started me on a path to being a more honest wife and mother. Let me to start becoming a more purposeful friend. And it gave me freedom as follower of Jesus that I didn’t know I was missing.

A few years later my son was in high school and was walking a troubled path. He had a lot of spiritual questions, as did I. I desperately wanted to find a way to connect with him and his small group of ragtag friends. And here Donald Miller played a part again. I had read his Searching For God Knows What, and thought maybe this would be a way to start a conversation with these kids. I talked to my son and he asked his friends, and to my shock they said they would be interested in a book study. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing for some cool college kid to come alongside and do a book study with this group of kids?” I prayed for days, for weeks, for months, to find the right person in my church of 6000 people – and it just wasn’t happening.

Then I felt this (horrible) nudging in my heart that maybe I’m supposed to lead this book study. NO. Just no! Dear God, I’m the MOM. These kids do not want to do a book study with their friend’s mom. But my son and his friends said yes. So there we met, week after week. Our little group included straight edge kids, drug using kids, atheist and agnostic kids, wounded Christian kids, bisexual kids, and a Jewish kid. I would love to tell you this study was a huge success and all of the kids opened their hearts to Jesus – but you know what? That didn’t happen. I learned to step away from being a mom and just listen to what my kid’s truth was – whether I wanted to hear it or not. I gave all the kids a safe place where they could say whatever they wanted, and I would listen. And that was okay. Actually, it was better than okay.

Fast forward to February, 2014, at the Storyline Conference in San Diego. I had already read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. This Donald Miller book helped me to start thinking of the story of my life in a very purposeful way. What kind of story did I want my life to tell? Who are the characters in my story? What can I do to build an even more beautiful story as a follower of Jesus? I was beside myself with excitement as I arrived at this conference with a few of my best friends. I don’t know if my friends quite knew with they were getting into. As a middle-aged stay-at-home mom for many years, the concept of dreaming and building a better story often felt out of my reach. But it had been building up for months in anticipation of this conference. And man, let me tell you – once I got there, my heart and my brain exploded!

Warning: once you open the floodgates of dreaming and creativity, especially if they have been closed for years, it is overwhelming and invigorating. And it’s also very difficult to shut off.

Starting with the incredible author Anne Lamott, the wheels of my heart and my head started turning. I soaked it in as I listened to amazing speaker after amazing speaker, each telling their beautiful story. I began to think and dream – I was hungry for community, I wanted our marriage and our family to be purposeful. I longed for for our home to be a safe haven, a healing place for broken people. And that is the beginning of our story.

This story involves a dream – born, shattered, and reborn. It’s the story of a broken marriage that was healed. It’s the story of the journey of a prodigal son and a wounded family that was restored. It’s the story of a family scattered across the globe to live out their dreams. It’s the dream of finding our tribe, learning to live in community, and welcoming everyone to our table. Every single one.


And right now it’s the story of a woman who needs to keep packing so that she can move across the country next week.

Please stay tuned. The story is unfolding, even as I write this.