2017 gift list

Christ child 2017 giftsStill and reverent, I lay in bed Christmas morning before the sun reappeared. I listened to heart-stopping versions of my favorite carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and enjoyed hot coffee, wrapping my extremities tightly in blankets. The piano keys and cello sang out with my spirit.

Nietzsche once said, “Everything matters. Nothing’s important.”

Each year I make a list of gifts received. This morning I reflected on the year’s gifts, Nietzsche’s words, and another key phrase.

Either Christ is everything, or He is nothing.

Charles Spurgeon and Hudson Taylor both echoed this sentiment—and both lived as if He were everything.

The entire year bore gifts.

gifts daughter father

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I held my mother’s shaking frame, soaked in tears, while she struggled to let my grandma go Home. I talked to my mentors for hours via video conferencing, on the phone, and face-to-face over the best hash browns I’ve consumed. I meditated on Truth while sipping fresh coffee every single morning, fueling my spirit and becoming better. I cradled countless kittens. I watched, panic-stricken, as my daughter barreled through a riding barn on an agitated racing horse at full speed. I rejoiced when I realized she and her little friend were holding one another in the saddle, God going before them and planning in love. I wiped away Maggie’s snot while she told me she wanted to keep riding, the bravest soul I know. I nearly skipped out of the breast specialist’s office, celebrating benign results. I applauded my tiny angel, proudly parading up the church aisle during the Christmas pageant. I walked away from my daughter’s preschool classroom for the first time and returned to find her too happy to leave. I led clients to greater joy. I shed tears. I shared silence. I waited for justice. I listened. I caressed my husband’s weathered crow’s feet, solidly at home. I stroked my cowgirl baby’s smooth forehead as she slept, whispering comfort and love in her ear, the most important part of my day.

Each night, as I tiptoed out and stumbled for my glasses atop piles of bedtime stories, I marinated in Light.

Christ shone beside me all year and carried me through.

Let me perceive You in every matter.

Dirty dancing’s not THAT bad

The class of 97, on the White River, April 26, 2014

The class of 97, on the White River, April 26, 2014

Last weekend, I said a fond farewell to a former high school classmate whose life was recently cut short. His sister hosted a “Celebration of Life” service at a local restaurant; the White River rolled and roared along beside us as we recalled living memories of our friend driving recklessly while listening to rock-n-roll music, or sending $100 to someone desperately in need of gas money for a trip home, or talking about his love for fashion and his desire to design clothing someday.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect–clear blue sky with a few puffy clouds here and there, a warm breeze, the bright sun blinding us as we took a picture together, with just one of us missing.

Some of the original Dirty Dancing crew a few years after the watch party :)

Some of the original Dirty Dancing crew a few years after the watch party 🙂

As I chatted with my classmates after giving my spiel about my friend, one of them reminded me about her birthday party in sixth grade, a fabulously naughty slumber party, complete with ghost stories and the movie my mom had banned me from watching, Dirty Dancing. I laughed as I remembered blaming the entire incident on my friend at the time; of course, I was THRILLED to have the opportunity to watch Patrick Swayze sway and kiss–all shirtless, of course. I might have had no idea about sex yet, but I had some idea about kissing, having kissed my New Kids On The Block poster of Jordan Knight every single night for about 367 days in a row.

The movie met my every expectation. The best part was the soundtrack. I still have yet to find a better soundtrack to a movie. Maybe it’s just the nostalgic junior high kid in me, but every time I hear the songs from Dirty Dancing, I can’t help but smile and sing along.

This morning, like a real grown-up woman, I helped my husband get my baby ready for the day, fried up turkey bacon and eggs for my family, spent time alone with God, and settled down at the computer to grade research papers. I glanced up at the calendar hanging on the bulletin board above my desk and noticed a date, seven days from today, with a big “35” jotted in red ink.

Oh yeah, I remembered. My birthday is a week from today.

And I’m not sure why, but suddenly the thoughts of saying goodbye to my friend washed over my mind–not with sadness, just with a sense of contemplation. And then for some reason, I caught myself humming the tune to one of those great songs on the soundtrack of Dirty Dancing.

Now I’ve had the time of my life
No I never felt like this before
Yes I swear. It’s the truth
And I owe it all to You . . . 

If someone ended my life and murdered me today, God forbid, or if my life ended for some other random reason today, I think this might be the song–or at least the stanza–that would capture how I feel about my life today–how I feel about God today.

Introducing Maggie to my alma mater, May 2014

Introducing Maggie to my alma mater, May 2014

This is the miracle–that if you’d asked me five years ago, or 10 years ago, to summarize my life with one song, I probably would have selected either some depressing hardcore rock song or an equally depressing gospel hymn disguised as a hopeful look toward heaven. Either way, I might have kept up the appearance of someone peppy and happy and carefree, but I carried around debts and burdens and pain nonetheless.

And then I started taking some steps, 12 of them, actually, that have helped me to just lay those burdens down one by one, piece by piece, and to give God what is God’s and to “not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.”

What a life, and what a God.

So maybe watching Dirty Dancing wasn’t THAT bad.

And turning 35 isn’t bad at all. It’s a blessing.

 

–Quote from The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 83

Keep fishing

My husband, fishing on the White River

My husband, fishing on the White River

There’s a reason so many old men sit down by the river after they retire for hours each day, staring into the water. They cast lines, bait hooks, smoke cigarettes, drink beer, wear sunglasses, and nod silently at one another in greeting. Most of them don’t have much to say.

Fishing is a great metaphor for life, and if you’ve never spent much time fishing, you might be rolling your eyes right now. That’s okay. Maybe you didn’t have a grandpa who took you fishing in a rusty old pickup truck with a can of worms. You might have never learned how to bait your own hook. And you might have never pitched a tent or slept in a sleeping bag under the stars while on a bonafide camping trip.

That’s all right. Someday, you might decide to embark on one of these adventures. Maybe someone else’s dad or husband or grandpa will wrap his sun-battered arm around you and invite you to hold a fishing rod. You might have difficulty being still for longer than five minutes. It might feel like a total waste of time. You might find yourself itching to take pictures with your iPhone.

Liz, fishing for crappie, January 2012

Liz, fishing for crappie, January 2012

Then you’ll feel a tug on your line, and your iPhone will suddenly seem insignificant, smaller than the crappie thrashing about in the water.  A thrill will fill your chest, and you’ll yelp as you yank a little too hard on the reel. You’ll lose the fish.

Your patient teacher will rebait the hook, and you’ll watch. You’ll feel a little sorry for the worm, but after experiencing the thrill of catching your own fish, you can’t wait to feel it again. You wait. This time, you watch the water cascading over the side of the dam. You have forgotten about taking pictures, and the imaginary world of Facebook fades into oblivion. You watch an old man reeling in what appears to be a gigantic trout. It must weigh 50 pounds, you think. You ask him how much it weighs. Maybe six pounds, sister, he mumbles.

You sit on the precipice of the dam, the damp concrete seeping through your jeans, wind whipping through your hair. You don’t talk to the people you drive down the gravel road with, packed like sardines into the gray pick-up truck, because the noise of the crashing waves drowns out every other sound anyway. You hear water, and you hear your own thoughts. Maybe you hear God for the first time in years.

019After thirty minutes of roaring silence, interrupted by intermittent casts and worms and sips of beer, a shiny trout gobbles up your bait. It seems too good to be true, but you follow directions, and somehow reel him in—this time without overreacting—and land him on the cold, hard surface of the bank.

He stares at you and stops flailing. The sun reflects off his beautiful shimmering body, showing the world one last time all of his colors. You smile at him, and the old man with the six pound trout peers down at you over the rim of his cheap gas station sunglasses. He’s a keeper, sister. That’s dinner.

And he is.

White River damAnd every time you cast your line into the river, you think about what it is that keeps you going back there, that keeps you fishing. It’s not dinner, although trout is certainly tasty, a wonderful local sustainable fish. It’s not the chance to spend time with people you love, even though that happens, too. And it’s not to escape a nagging wife or husband at home, although you might know a few folks who fish for particularly that reason. And it’s not the thrill of the tug and the bragging rights, although many people fish to feed their own egos.

It’s the beauty, the flash in the water, the colors and the light. It’s the silent cry from the trout and river and the rock, the don’t you remember Who I Am?

Six months later, someone asks you what you like to do for fun. Fishing, you say, without batting an eye. I like going fishing.

You might want to try it.

Merging

I’m pretty sure I’ve never cried so much in my life.

Maggie experiencing spring for the first time

Maggie experiencing spring for the first time

Since having my daughter in November, my perspective has changed. Everything old-hat seems new again. All the colors bloomed into brighter versions of themselves. Frowns and smiles and silly sounds thrill my soul. Seconds count. Life matters more.

This isn’t my first spin on the merry-go-round of emotions that motherhood entails.

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Me with Liz, summer 2011

I was lucky enough to be a stepmom to an amazing little girl for almost six years. And even luckier, she still likes me and wants to spend time with me, even though she is a month from graduating from high school and is practically an adult (who I am incredibly proud of) in every way. She gets embarrassed when I post mushy sentiments on Facebook about her, but she doesn’t delete them. She even suffers through a little cheek pinching now and then. She drives two hours to come stay with me, crawls through caves with me and my husband, licks the bowl after I concoct cookie dough, watches sunsets, kisses fish when she catches them, and opens her heart to me from time to time, too. She keeps me updated on celebrities, catch phrases, and other cool cultural trends. A few months ago, when I gave her a mini dress to wear with leggings, and explained that I was simply too old to pull it off, she responded, “Well, it’s good that you recognize that, Beef.” She makes me laugh and tells the truth and loves me.

My experiences and emotions as a mother obviously multiplied when I had Maggie.

And my love overflowed in the form of messy snot and tears when my two favorite girls met, and my past and my present merged.

It’s hard to explain what it means to watch joy and adoration twinkle in the beautiful eyes of the two babies you love more than any others as they meet for the first time, the grown-up girl scooping up the baby girl into her arms, kissing her chubby cheeks, and holding her close.

Many times, people ask me if I regret decisions I’ve made in my past. Divorces, mega mistakes, traumatic events, financial turning points. Because I’ve spent half a dozen years taken a dozen steps over and over again, I can honestly say no. As the Big Book so aptly puts it, “I do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.”

I have no desire to wish away the things that have made me who I am today.

Liz and Maggie, March 2013

Liz and Maggie, March 2013

If I could change the past, I wouldn’t be here right now, tearing up yet again while remembering the most precious introduction I’ve ever had the privilege to initiate.

I would skip over much sorrow. But I would rob myself of even more joy.

Drowning the crocodile

peterpan66gm1I feel like Captain Hook every day.

I hear the tick tock of an invisible clock, and at times, it’s nearly audible. When I’m nursing my baby, and she decides to turn meal time into play time, I hear the ticking, telling me that there are three people waiting for me to return their calls and emails. When I’m checking my newsfeed on Facebook and take a moment to “like” my friend’s photo of her adorable, chunky toddler playing with his new tractor, I hear the clock ticking, tying strings to the index fingers of my mind, reminding me of the stack of homework and bills atop my desk.  When I’m reading poems by T.S. Eliot (which, by the way, I’m still proposing be removed from the list of American classics), I hear the clock ticking, reminding me of the stack of laundry waiting to be folded.

The clock is always ticking. It never stops. At times, I worry that I’ll just jump ship like Captain Hook, right into that crafty crocodile’s open mouth, giving up on the idea of even halfway managing to get anything done.

Nothing against crocodiles, but I’d honestly like to slit that crocodile’s throat, yank out the ticking clock, and smash it on the plank into millions of tiny, unrecognizable pieces.

But time doesn’t work that way. And neither does my mind.

I’ve always had a keen–probably overly keen–awareness of time. I’ve even written about it before. At times, it serves a beneficial purpose in my life. It keeps me on track. It helps me accomplish tasks. It motivates me to arrive promptly and finish work ahead of schedule. It reminds me of the great chasm between our tiny little lives on earth and eternity.

But every asset can be a defect if I let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction. And after having a baby, I have noticed the tick tock growing louder and louder and louder. I have allowed the pendulum to swing way too far in the direction of defective for me.

My very wise mentor reminded me last week that God will never give me more than I can handle, but that I will give myself more than I can handle every single time.

That wasn’t the touchy feely, fairy godmother type of reminder I was hoping to receive, but it was the truth.

All I’ve been given each day is one day. In fact, I don’t even know for certain that I will live past 10:09 a.m., March 21, 2013. All I know is that I’m here, right now. My daughter is here, right now, sleeping peacefully in her crib during her nap (which hopefully lasts until I finish writing this post). My husband is here, quietly crunching numbers on his computer and drinking his coffee.

Listening to the clock and attempting to hold way too many things in my hands at one time. FAIL :).

Listening to the clock ticking and attempting to hold way too many things in my hands while using tissue to stop my nose from running. FAIL :).

Yes, there are crumbs on my marble counter tops. Yes, there is an embarrassing collection of bark, leaves, and clods of dirt in my living room floor, thanks to our wood-burning stove. Yes, my collection of literature for my upcoming comprehensive exam for my Master’s degree lies next to me, waiting to be opened and reviewed (again). And yes, post-it notes reminding me of things to order, bills to pay, dates to prepare for, and topics to write about are slowly taking over my once-tidy bulletin board, having spread from a smidgen of hot pink to a blinding mass of fluorescent mess.

Yesterday, as my daughter performed a cacophony of coos and impressive wrestling and gymnastics moves while halfheartedly nursing, the clock ticked.

And I heard a Still Small Voice.

“Just enjoy her.”

So I did.

I remembered a note stuck to my bulletin board (still visible despite the mess of bright pink post-its). On it are two phrases, both phrases whispered to me during a meditation exercise at a women’s conference a few years ago.

020One of the phrases reads, “Time enjoyed is not time wasted.”

Let me silence the clock today. Let me drown that crocodile (or slit its throat–whatever works) that keeps lurking around, encircling my mind.

Let me look at my daughter’s ever-changing face as I hold her in my hands.

Let me listen closely to what matters–the steady, quiet ticking of her tiny, growing heart.

 

What I’m listening to

It’s hard to resist the temptation to listen to the Sirens of the past.

In fact, living in the moment is one of the hardest life lessons I’ve learned. I didn’t learn how to do it easily. It didn’t come to me naturally. And I certainly didn’t acquire the ability quickly.

It’s taken years.

Through a combination of catastrophic choices and traumatic trials, I came to believe that my life simply wasn’t going to turn out the way I’d wanted it to. And in truth, I had never had many visions of a pleasant life or goals for changing the world. After age 16, when many fundamental truths seemed disproved by my circumstances of sexual assault and the aftermath that entails, I discarded the notion that setting goals was even worthwhile. What’s the point, if someone can come along and rip your plans away from you? What’s the purpose in believing that if you do X, Y, and Z, God will bless you and work all things together for your good?

And so I allowed my past to dictate my present–and in turn, my present dictated my future. I didn’t feel worth much, and my relationship choices reflected those feelings. I dated random people temporarily to fill emotional voids, using them as crutches and stepping stones. When I finally settled into a real relationship, it was with someone who was honest with me and told me he simply didn’t feel the same about me as I felt about him or was not as sure about our relationship as I was. I chose to ignore the warning and continued to pour my heart out, perhaps in hopes that I’d change his mind. I wanted to control my own destiny. I was determined to get what I wanted, perhaps because I felt I’d been stripped of other things I’d wanted.

That didn’t work, obviously. Although I didn’t see it at the time, God proved to me through that failed relationship that I was certainly not God and that I could absolutely not control another person’s feelings. I would refuse to heed this lesson–so God taught it to me over and over and over again over the course of an entire decade. Every time I tried to control my own circumstances–whether in relationships, at work, or otherwise–He thwarted my efforts and proved relentlessly that He was God. What a bummer.

Sometimes looking back is painful. The Sirens of the past sing the saddest, sweetest songs to me about things I left behind, things that might have been different if only, and things I could have done differently to change the tune of my life.

But I’ve chosen to turn my ear to different sounds now–to sounds occurring right now, all around me, not echoes of songs from what seems like aeons ago. I finally learned the lesson He’d been attempting to teach me for so long, slowly and painfully and not without much help from others who’d learned the same lesson already.

A week ago, my husband agreed to serve on a committee at church. A few days ago, he served communion during a church service. These might seem like small, insignificant life events to some people. But to me, having watched the years of my life rot before my eyes and people I loved fall apart and disintegrate right before my eyes, these were no small moments. This was seeing someone I’d dared to trust following God. It was seeing my prayers for him answered. It was seeing the disappointments of years gone by smeared away, the slate clean.

I could almost audibly hear Him whispering to me, “I will repay you for the years the locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25).

He has.

Things I never thought possible have occurred and continue to occur in my life today. Dreams I never allowed myself to dream have come true. Hopes I lacked the faith to hope for have been realized. And it just keeps happening this way as I listen to the laughter, the words of confirmation and love, and the quiet song of awe emanating from my heart today.

This new song is all I listen to now.

The Sirens might have drowned.