love

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 Love Is a Foreign Language

Once there was a teenage girl who sought love by giving herself away, only to have a man respect her and simply ask, “Would you like a hand to hold?” rather than just taking, like so many others. She had not seen pure, innocent love for so long. She felt awkward, unsure of how to respond.

This type of selfless love that had no agenda  was unfamiliar to her.

Sometimes love is a foreign language.

This is true for many of us. If one has not seen pure love demonstrated, one might find it hard to recognize, and even more difficult to openly and freely accept.

As we seek to love others (and allow ourselves to be loved), we need to learn the language of love. I’m not talking about the Five Love Languages as written about by Dr. Gary Chapman, which outlines five ways to give and experience love as gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), and physical touch (intimacy). Those have validity, but I’m talking about language that allows us to practically give and receive love, and the boundaries that we have that prevent us from accepting love. And this differs from person to person.

Because we are human and we live in an imperfect world, many of us find the language of unconditional love foreign and difficult to understand. We can be defensive and suspicious, which creates walls that make it difficult to experience true love, whether in giving or receiving.

When we are truly interested in loving others extravagantly, we accept the challenge of becoming a Love Interpreter. An Anthropologist. An Investigator.

We must be creative, so that we can love people in a language that they can understand and easily accept. With a gracious heart and without judgement, the eyes of our heart need to be able to see what is hidden beneath the surface. We need to investigate – what is the felt need? How can we best meet that need? And what might hinder the receiver from openly accepting the act of love?

I know that some people think of the Christmas story as just that, a made-up story. But it makes so much sense to me – if indeed there is a God of the universe (and I believe there is), why he would send his Son to earth to become a man.

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

He came to love us in a language we could understand. He became a Love Investigator, Anthropologist, Interpreter from God to the people of the world.

John 1:14 The Message (MSG)

14 The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

Philippians 2:7 MSG

When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.

Hebrews 4:15-16 The Message (MSG)
 We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.

As we strive to learn what it means to love one another in a language they can understand, I’m reminded of Paul’s words.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 The Message (MSG)

19-23 Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!

How can we be in on it? How can we show pure, unconditional love to those around us? How can we love extravagantly, with reckless abandon? How can we be Jesus with skin on?

Here are some examples where love might be a foreign language. What is the best way to show love in a language they will understand?

The autistic child, who can’t look you in the eyes, and is overwhelmed by outside stimuli. 

The overwhelmed single mother suffering from postpartum depression.

The bipolar middle-schooler who overheard his teacher say he might be a psychopath.

The new bride who is having flashbacks of her childhood sexual abuse.

The twenty-something atheist who has nothing but contempt for organized religion. 

The teen who was adopted from a home of origin full of violence and abuse. 

The WWII veteran who has never talked about the war. 

The refugee who fled their home after the rest of their family was brutally murdered. 

The divorced woman who feels she will never have a healthy relationship. 

The empty-nester in a dead marriage. 

The mentally ill homeless man you pass on the corner each morning as you head to work. 

The curmudgeonly senior citizen who has spent years alienating their family and is now terminally ill and dying alone.

The sex trade worker to whom touch means something other than love and respect. 

That annoying co-worker who you’re sure is out to get you. 

The cancer patient who cannot answer one more “How are you doing?” query, and just wants to be ‘one of the girls’ again. 

The recently divorced empty nester, who longs for love but can only see the ways that she has pushed it away. 

The single dad, who was a player in high school, who now has a young daughter and must learn to treat women with respect.

 

When we look beyond the surface and discover ways to love – creatively, extravagantly, purposefully, unconditionally – it will be a foreign language to many. Key points to remember:

LOVE WITHOUT AN AGENDA: Don’t expect a thank-you note. Pure acts of love are not so other people can see how awesome you are. Pure acts are not so you can post about how loving you are on social media. We are all tainted by mixed motives, but as much as possible, check your ego and expectations at the door.

LOVE IS PERFECTLY IMPERFECT: Pure love is not finding the perfect gift, or always knowing the right words to say. Acts of love that seek to meet felt needs are often imperfectly perfect. It may feel awkward or uncomfortable. Love anyway.

LOVE DOESN’T ALWAYS MAKE SENSE: It is likely you will feel or even look foolish to outsiders. Love doesn’t always make sense.

LOVE MIGHT COST YOU SOMETHING: It takes time and effort to be a Love Investigator, to discern how to love in a language that can be understood and received. It might mean giving your time, your attention, or even spending some money or giving your material goods.

LOVE MIGHT NOT BE WELL-RECEIVED: Your efforts might not be well received. There might be so much brokenness or the walls might be so high that each act of love might just plant a small seed that needs to be nurtured until it can grow. Don’t give up. Just keep watering and letting the sun shine in.

LOVE JUST SHOWS UP: Listen to your intuition. If that little voice is prompting you, MOVE. If you don’t know what to do or what to say, just show up and be present. Often that is just enough.

LOVE WINS: If it’s awkward, imperfect, poorly received, that doesn’t matter. Just keep practicing love.

1 Corinthians 13:13b The Message (MSG)

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

I Really Want to Love Advent

*Disclaimer: Writing about how sometimes I don’t love Advent does not mean that I don’t love Christmas. Just as writing about my longings for changing the church does not mean that I don’t love Jesus. Just as writing about how my marriage could improve does not mean that I don’t love my husband. Just as writing about my hopes and dreams for my children does not mean that I don’t love them. You get the idea.

I want to love Advent. Really I do. It is not something we practiced growing up. In fact, I had never heard of Advent until I was a young mother, and heard a talk about it at a MOMS group as a meaningful alternative to the commercialization and Santa-frenzy of the Christmas season. It sounded good. Taking time out of the chaos of the holiday season to focus your heart each week to prepare for the spiritual reason for the season – the coming of Christ.

Oh Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun.

What is Advent?

It is part of the liturgical church calendar, beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas (this usually falls the Sunday after Thanksgiving). The season focuses on the expectation and the anticipation of the coming of Jesus. Often there are four candles placed around an Advent wreath, with one candle being lit each week on Sunday, representing hope, love, joy, and peace. There is sometimes a candle placed in the center to represent Christ, and that is lit on Christmas Day. As each candle is lit, there are readings, hymns or songs, and scriptures for each week, often meant to be read together as a family.There are variations of the practice of advent, but those are the basics.

It sounds lovely, and it can be. There are times that I really appreciated being reminded to push pause and reflect. I particularly loved getting up early Christmas morning and lighting the center candle and just spending some quiet time praying and reflecting before everyone else got up and the busy day began.

But honestly, it often felt like one more thing to do during the Christmas season. And three little boys weren’t particularly keen to sit quietly and participate in readings (unless it was their turn to light the candle). Most of the time I was unprepared when that first Sunday of Advent rolled around, because not only did it mean putting away my fall decorations, it meant finding and putting out my Christmas decorations, or at least my Advent wreath. To add to this pressure, two of my boys have birthdays the first week of December, so we often put off decorating for Christmas until after we celebrated their birthdays. And when I finally got my act together and had everything set up, it often felt like a forced ritual, rather than a meaningful time of reflection. And if I’m truly honest, it was sometimes a source of pride and self-righteousness that I was practicing Advent and down-playing Santa. Yes, that is the ugly truth of it.

O come, O come, Emmanuel : and ransom captive Israel

So as I’ve started my search for the sacred, I am trying to look at Advent with new eyes. And evenso, I was not ready for the first Sunday of Advent. We moved across the country this summer, and I had to find my Christmas boxes among the piles of boxes up on the third floor. (And also, the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead was on). Ummmm. Yeah, so there it is.

But by the first of the week I had found my advent wreath and bought my candles and started reading each day. In my journey to discover the meaningfulness behind the church calendar, I have been reading Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, and I am trying to rid my life of some of the distractions so that I can learn to focus on what is important.

Praise to you who lift up the poor : and fill the hungry with good things.

Which is truly difficult for me – I am strongly ADD and my life is centered around distractions. I thrive on them. So this learning to be still and focus and remove distractions and have discipline is scary, uncomfortable, and very, very difficult at times. It does not come easily for me, but I am slowly learning.

There are many readings that go along with Advent – some are quite formal, others a little more laid back. If you have never practiced Advent, or like me, sometimes just went through the motions, I encourage you to look at Advent with fresh eyes and an open heart. There is something truly sacred about pausing and reflecting, not as a duty, but out of a sense of wonder. This year, along with the readings from Common Prayer, I am following Sarah Bessey’s writings for Advent. I love her writing  because she speaks hard truths with a sweetness and gentleness that draws me in. So if you’re a late starter, like me, you can begin here:

Week One:  Hope

Week Two: Peace

You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face” : your face, Lord, will I seek.

Lord, help me to learn to turn from the many distractions that, although they may be good, serve to distract me from the best. 

Lord, help me learn to be still and quiet, so that I can hear your voice. 

Lord, give me open eyes to see truth, and a mouth that can speak truth in love as well as hold its tongue for the sake of grace and peace.

Simply Love, and Love Well

A couple of years ago, my life was in chaos. I felt broken. I felt wounded by the church. I couldn’t enter a church without wanting to run screaming, so I stopped going. I could barely stand it when someone spoke “Christianese” at me.

My relationships were broken. I had hurt one of my best friends, and she refused to forgive me after multiple attempts to reconcile. A family member had deeply wounded me. To create safe boundaries, I had cut off communication for a time in order to build healthy boundaries and not be revictimized.

But God had a plan for this chaos. Broken, my heart was humbled as I saw the devastating consequences of my actions as well as others. I started counseling again for the first time in many years, and started healing anew. As this emotional healing progressed, my spirit was also beginning the healing process. I determined that the story I was living could not continue. I wanted to live a better story.

Eventually, relationships were restored, although the wounds remain. Not as an open source of pain, but a scar that serves as a reminder to love gently and purposefully. While I had turned my back on the “church”, I never felt far from God. Slowly, the contempt I had for organized religion was replaced by a longing for community, to once again find my place in the body of Christ. That is an ongoing process, but I don’t want to run screaming any more (at least, most of the time I don’t).

This week I had the luxury of solitude. I decided not to travel with my husband on business, so I had a blissful week alone. This became a mini-retreat that allowed me hours upon hours to process what I learned at the Storyline conference, and to spend time reading, praying, and journaling. I was able to organize all of the things that had been weighing heavy on my heart. I developed goals for the coming year – specific and purposeful goals. I created a theme for the year that will help guide me and help me focus on those important things that will help me lead a better story.

Simply love, and love well.

Love God. Love others. Love yourself.

Love God –

I will spend more time learning, reading, studying, praying, and journaling. And yes, I am going on a silent retreat next month so that I can learn to be still and listen. And I think I have found a church here in Louisville that doesn’t make me want to run screaming.

I considered the five major roles in my life (wife, family, friend, neighbor, writer) from Storyline’s Creating Your Life Plan, and set goals for each one. I also took into account the concept of the relational atom

Love others:

  • as a wife, be a partner in creating memories and building a home of restorative community

  • as a family member (daughter, sister), love purposefully and practically

  • as a friend (this includes just my inner circle of friends), also love purposefully and practically, and work to maintain relationships though we are at a distance; be ‘present’ even though I am not present

  • as a neighbor (this includes the people in my neighborhood, extended family, my outer circle of friends, co-workers, and church friends) , show God’s love with purpose and presence

Love yourself:

as a writer and creative soul; care for myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually

In light of this new focus, there will be some changes for my blog. I will just be posting a couple of times each week about this journey. In setting some boundaries so that I can be more purposeful in my relationships, I want to spend less time on social media and more time being actually present. My ‘new year’ will start at the beginning of the church calendar, on the first Sunday of Advent  (November 30 this year). I hope you will continue with me as I learn to Simply Love

What have you done to live a better story this past year? Share your answer on my Facebook page.

Comments can be emailed to me by using the form below

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.