gratitude

Good Grief

Today is Good Friday, everybody’s home from school and work, and except for the water in the many fish tanks, it is quiet. I’m reading a book by a Lutheran pastor whose first book is called Pastrix (probably the best title I have ever seen) and watching episodes of Wandavision on Disney+.

Today is Good Friday. What does that mean, in 2021, in the United States of America, in my heart, here, now?

During funerals I talk mostly about grief. Sometimes followers of Jesus can run away from grief, choosing instead to focus on bumper sticker theological cliches and shiny Bible verses. This is not usually helpful. Usually it makes us feel like bad Christians because we just feel sad or angry or lost or resentful or bitter, or probably more likely, make those ‘or’s ‘and’s and that’s closer to the truth.

Wandavision is a remarkably deep tv series about soul-crushing grief and superheroes. The title character Wanda is squashed under the weight of immeasurable pain. The expectations, hopes, dreams she had, what her life would look like, what it was supposed to be, died with Vision. Now what? Good Friday asks us the same question. The One we waited for, what He would look like, what He would do, what this was supposed to be, was dead on a cross. Now what? What do we do with this question, with all of the questions? We still have questions in a life of faith, but what do we do with them? Can I feel this pain AND still hope? Can we celebrate in this flood of tears? How much can a heart break?

Vision asks Wanda, “Well, it can’t all be sorrow, can it?” he says. “I’ve always been alone, so I don’t feel the lack. It’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve never experienced loss because I have never had a loved one to lose. But what is grief, if not love persevering?”

And Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Pastrix, writes, “What I know for sure is that God is always present in love and in suffering.”

I don’t think the question is can we feel pain and hope, or can love and suffering coexist, or can loss and peace hold hands and dance in harmony?

Maybe a better one is, how can they not?

You see, in an authentic full life, we feel all of those things swirling and taking turns with the lead (well, sometimes they don’t take turns and all gush out in a mad dash for the door). This is totally natural. What isn’t natural is the impulse towards shame because we shouldn’t feel some of those things.

The bottomless well of loss in Good Friday hurts like crazy. But loss isn’t the only thing in that well. It’s overflowing with all sorts of company that we are blessed enough to see from here, from Easter Sunday. Loss, confusion, frustration, resurrection, redemption, forgiveness, salvation, ache, separation, reconciliation, all bound together by nothing less than the greatest of all, the amazing undeniable love of Jesus. So, what’s today? It’s a wonderful sadness, a holy sacrifice, a broken hallelujah. It’s a really good grief.

SAD

I don’t know if you know this about me, but March is a very difficult month. There is a disorder called seasonal affective disorder (with a fitting acronym, SAD) and that is a real thing. I don’t necessarily think all officially named disorders are but SAD sure is. By the time February and March roll around, it’s been cold and dark and lonely and by this particular March, we’ve been in a pandemic for over a year so we’re even more isolated than usual.

Anyway, I think it always has been. When I say that I don’t know if you know this about me, I didn’t know this about me for years. Probably, if I had been paying close attention, it would’ve been easy to spot, but we don’t always pay close attention. We’re busy and distracted and if the truth can be told, don’t want to pay close attention. There are wounds and unresolved issues that would be too painful to even begin to resolve, so they stay in the corner or under the bed and we keep running hoping we can ignore them forever. Of course they won’t be ignored and seep out of us in all sorts of ugly ways that get all over everybody and make a giant mess. Sometimes, those ugly ways change.

For a few weeks, I have had headaches and haven’t been sleeping. My mood has been great, not as irritable as you’d guess, but the seep has looked like this, this year, so I am a little like a zombie until 9 or 10 and then again by 5 or 6. I was wondering why I felt like such garbage when Angel reminded me that it is indeed March and obviously I feel like garbage because I always feel like garbage in March. There are a few anniversaries of super sad days in March and even though this year I missed the actual day and barely acknowledged them, the emotions and scars apparently sat pouting in the middle of the floor of my soul screaming for attention. Maybe what they were screaming for was just a little respect. You see, those days changed me. I am a different man now than I was before those days and even though we have made peace and they have been integrated into the massive library of relationships, people, places, experiences, lessons, feelings, knowledge, (and on and on) that is me, they do exist.

I wasn’t intending to run (that is no longer what I do) but I was unaware, sort of a waking sleep (that is sometimes what I do). Somebody said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living,” and I don’t know if that’s true, it seems like all life is worth living. But it becomes true for me if you omit just 1 word, worth. The unexamined life isn’t living. It’s a monotonous loop of repeating the same mistakes, stuck in the same patterns that damage us, settling for the same unfulfilling jobs and relationships, uninspired and exhausted, giving our moments (all of these sacred moments) to simply getting through the day.

The super sad anniversaries don’t break my heart into pieces anymore, but they are still significant and should be treated as such. Everything significant should be treated as such. When did we stop treating these things as gifts and start taking them so for granted, like they were anything less than everyday miracles? We’re alive. That breath we just took, it’s not now and has never been guaranteed. Sometimes we don’t get another. Sometimes the hug, kiss, touch we just hurried through will be the last. The BIG problem is that we hardly ever know they’re the last as they’re happening. We just look back with regret that we missed something beautiful.

You know, now that I think about it, I misspoke earlier. I added an extra word that I’d like to take back. I wrote: Everything significant should be treated as such. Maybe it should have read: Everything should be treated as significant. Not just super sad anniversaries, but everyday conversations, steps, meals.

It likely won’t make March feel like September for me, won’t eliminate the seasonal affect, but it will certainly help make every day, every month more alive, more colorful, more connected full of presence and wonder and love. Then we won’t want to just get through, we’ll want to savor and enjoy this amazing life we’ve been given.

Us Against You

I’ve been telling everyone who will listen how much I love the author Fredrik Backman. Last month I read and wrote about Beartown, a devastating novel about a community and a horrible thing that happens that threatens to tear it to shreds. Reading it was a rough experience. So you can imagine how surprised I was to be reading its sequel, Us Against You. The story continues to detail the fallout from this horrible thing in this community. We often think the horrible things are like band aids; we tear them off and then throw it in the garbage and we don’t have a band aid anymore. It’s really more like a tattoo; it might fade but that’s about the best case scenario. It will probably leave traces behind so we can always see where it was, how and when we got it and how much it hurt. We are different afterwards, changed.

This horrible thing leads to a vastly transformed landscape. Relationships deteriorate between spouses, parents & children, neighbors, teammates. Maybe the most damaged is the relationship they have with themselves and the people they thought they were.

I learned a lot about me through these 800 pages across 2 books, about who I am and who I want to be and how far apart those people still are, sometimes.

These characters are faced with decisions to respond, to stand…or not.

The choice to speak or not. To move forward or not. To build or destroy.

Some make great decisions that cause them such unbelievable pain and loss.

Some act in shameful ways and their careers advance, their teams win.

Sometimes relationships fall apart for no more complex reason than we don’t hold them together.

We don’t know how to come home, so we stand on the porch unable to turn the handle while those inside ache at our absence as if we were worlds apart instead of on the other side of the door.

The whole narrative could’ve changed, reconciliation was still possible, if only we could turn the knob. If only we could take 1 step, tell the truth, say something, stop. If only.

This horrible thing happened between 2 people and ravaged an entire town for generations. There are no victimless crimes. But it would also be a mistake to suppose that the horrible thing was the only ravager. The entire town, over generations, carelessly set the scene for this horrible thing between 2 people. Everything is connected. By the end, it was so hard to tell who were the victims and who were the perpetrators, but this writer didn’t seem to mind leaving it to me to figure that out. And (with the exception of 1 15 year-old girl) I couldn’t. What I discovered is that it’s a lot like real life, that the brainless simplicity of us/them is never adequate. Maybe its authenticity is what made it so uncomfortable.

This is a very difficult post to write, not because I can’t think of anything to say, but because there’s just too much. My head and heart are overflowing with ideas that I delete, false starts and a screen that is blurry through new tears.

Earlier, I typed “the whole narrative could’ve changed,” and I think that’s what is so heartbreaking to me. It takes work and attention, food and water, but often we don’t have those to give, for whatever reason. So the distance between us grows and we stop seeing, stop listening, stop saying.

The books were amazing. I’m sad but, like always, hopeful. This story in Beartown is our story and like that one, we can change it. We don’t have to stop listening, seeing, saying. We don’t have to stay on the porch, we can come in and fall in love again. One Sunday there was an empty tomb, a moment where everything changed forever, and there can be one today, too.

Funeral

There was a funeral last Friday for a lovely woman.

I’ll sometimes force my sons to attend funerals or memorial services with me, to which they usually respond, “I don’t want to,” because they’re teenagers and human. I usually ask, “why?” because I am their dad and horrible, to which they say, “I don’t like them.” Here, I lie and say, “nobody likes them.”

I tell them that lie because sometimes you have to do things you don’t like and it’s mostly better if everyone else is doing things they don’t like, too. Like eating vegetables or running.

The truth is that I love them. I know how that sounds, but it’s not to be confused with loving death, dying or anything weird like that. I’m not a psycho. They’re thin spaces, and I find thin spaces – where, according to Eric Weiner in The NY Times, the “distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine” – absolutely inspiring and beautiful.

When you stare out of the car window, flowers, grass, guardrails, and other cars blur into one undefined smudge. Nothing is clear. You can’t even tell where the flowers start and the Honda ends. This is like my life. I have a full schedule, see a lot of people, go a lot of places, drop off and pick up from practices, grocery stores, and on and on. Too often, I hurry, don’t stop to listen, don’t pay attention.

Last March when the world stopped turning, I dreamed of a new normal where we would find that we quite liked the slower pace. Instead, almost a year later, the new normal is just the old normal with more Zoom meetings and Amazon deliveries. It’s still a blurry smudge if we’re not careful.

Funerals operate like isolated March 2020’s. They stop us where we are, open our eyes, heaven and earth collapse, and we are invited to see these divine glimpses. Now, maybe we don’t accept the invitation. Maybe we stuff our emotions and check the boxes on what “has to be done,” work like crazy until we can finally get back to work (because who knows if the company will actually be standing if we’re not there to hold it together.) Maybe we numb and check out. Maybe we pretend we’re SuperSpiritual and read from the list of cliches while we convince ourselves that it’s somehow selfish to acknowledge the honesty of the loss and stifle anything that looks like tears and feels like grief.

But, baby, if we do accept the invitation… The clean lines of the Honda, blades of grass and bright colors of the flowers come into focus and we can actually see the beauty all around us that we’re too busy to notice any other time. We cry our eyes out when we need to and often find those tears surprisingly becoming laughter and smiles at the wonder of our tremendous gratitude.

[There is a pink elephant in this room. What if the tears are of sadness but also anger or rage or bitterness or resentment? Then, there is no laughter and gratitude is in short supply. This sort of situation is even more important that we accept the invitation into presence. There’s a character in the movie Magnolia who says, “we may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us.” The longer we run from the fact that there are chains around our necks, the longer those chains stay around our necks, strangling us slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, just taking our lives a breath at a time. I know it’s horrible, but we face what comes, dump it on the ground, look at it, and then we maybe pick it up and do it all again next week, but at some point, we leave a little on the ground, we pick up a little less, until the tears feel less like acid and more like peace. It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but we have to believe it’s possible. If the tomb was empty once, nothing is impossible ever again.]

So, all of this mourning, grief, celebration, gratitude, looking at an empty place at the table or in the chair… well, it hurts like crazy when our hearts break. But we are awake. Our eyes are wide open to the blessings of today, and open to the blessings of yesterday, when they were here (It was awesome when they were here) and what a gift it was that, of all the people in the world, they were here with us and it was great.

See You Next Year!

This will be my last post of the year. I love to do things on the 31st of December because I can say I won’t do them again until next year…and then I laugh like no one has ever said that before. I say “See you next year!!!” Like everybody’s dad ever…and then I laugh like I’m the first. It’s cheesy and silly and so am I.

This was my post on January 3rd of this year, before the world stopped: “Happy New Year, it’s 2 thousand twenty. It hardly seems possible, right. I was born in 1975, so that means I’ve now seen 6 decades. I suppose this is my favorite, if I had to choose – you see, all things considered, life gets better every single day. I imagine my 7th decade (if I get that far) will be even better yet.

Though if I were totally honest, this year has so far been a little bit of a bummer. I was a little sick at the end of last year for Christmas, and then I was seemingly better, then yesterday woke up with a cough! Nursing this tiny cold hasn’t been too much of a nuisance, with the giant exception of the 2 twin babies I’m dying to spend tons of time and smooches on that I can’t yet. I’m not one of those psychos that visit regardless of symptoms and hack all over their sweet soft round faces. The hugs and kisses are coming the second I am tip top, that I promise you.”

A bit of a bummer???? Ha! An enormous bummer. And I haven’t given any hugs and smooches to those twins since the first Sunday in March. Nor their parents. Nor their parents. Nor many of my closest friends. For a person as ‘physical touch’ as I am, this year has been a desert.

But I can tell you this, this decade is still my favorite.

I learned a lot about us this year. We were forced into the uncomfortable space where our delusions of control were ripped from our white knuckles. We were asked over and over by the universe, “Now what?” And as you may or may not know, that’s my favorite question, full of hope and imagination.

We’ve had a year, now what?

We’ve seen where we are, now what?

We’ve seen who we are, now what?

I’m insufferably optimistic about how we’ll answer those questions.

I ended last year’s post like this: “Genesis 1 says we’re made in the image of God, and it has been my experience that when we just strip away all of the fears, expectations, should’s, should not’s, and negative postures (I called it the Art of Subtraction in a message 2 years ago), we’ll find us – who we really are, in our deepest Genesis 1 Truths – and when we do, we’ll really like what we see.” I’ll end it like that, again.

See you next year!!!!!

So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday

So, let me tell you about yesterday.

The Angel & I took the boys to school and left immediately, driving north to Scranton (home of Dunder Mifflin Paper) for the funeral service of a friend’s father. He (James Chickson) was a terrific dad, husband, and man – exactly like my friend. At the Bridge, we would call men like him bull elephants, and the world doesn’t have enough of those, so we gathered to mourn. It was a catholic service and as a general rule, I find catholic services a little sterile and impersonal (just me, just my opinion, but I am very messy, overly sensitive, mushy and untraditional, so I would), which this one was…UNTIL my friend stood to give the eulogy. He was beautiful. He was all of the things we love about him, and probably all of the things we loved about his dad. It was awesome and exhausting, just what a funeral service should be.

Then we came home, picked my boys up from school and had some ice cream because ice cream is perfect for a broken heart.

Then at the dinner table (dinner after dessert is also perfect for broken hearts…well, any hearts, really), we discovered that there were new PA COVID restrictions that would, among other things, “pause” school sports. It was then that my boys expressed their emotions in what is sometimes the only appropriate way, with tears of sadness and rage.

Now, I know school sports are comparatively minor in relation to the widespread wreckage COVID has wrought, but it is absolutely real to them. And to me. Because we all have those comparatively minor’s, right?

Once the tears stopped and we were able to re-focus and gain a smidgen of perspective, then I began the phone calls to the core group of the Bridge to discuss what we would do, if anything, to address the new restrictions. Again, a small church in Annville is comparatively minor in the grand scheme, but it is my family and it is definitely doesn’t feel comparatively minor.

We are losing loved ones, businesses, homes. We have been disconnected and isolated, and that leaves us raw and exposed, sensitive to very fine points. I remember months after the flood took our house, I had an appointment where I would need dress socks. I rarely wear dress socks and now that I needed them, I realized, I didn’t have dress socks. The pair I had was lost in the flood. I was working, driving on a major highway towards State College, when I realized this insignificant detail (big deal, stop anywhere and pick up a new pair) and had to pull my truck off the road when my sobbing made driving impossible. Everything was overflowing, all of the months of “What are we going to do????” and utter powerlessness to answer had crested, and dress socks pierced the thin shell that barely kept it all on the inside.

High school seniors have lost proms and graduations, weddings have been moved, suspended, our lives have been radically upended, and we know that a missed dinner & dance for upperclassmen is nothing in relation to 200,000+ dead in this country alone, countless more worldwide. But that doesn’t make a canceled school dance hurt less. There isn’t a finite amount of love and care in our souls, we can deeply feel all the things in this human experience. There isn’t a cause/effect relationship where ignoring our pain leads to an increase in empathy. I would suggest if there is a relationship, it’s an inverse connection, where turning the blind eye to suffering (in any and all forms, even our own) leads to a practiced desensitization to suffering (in any and all forms).

I bring all of this up because what I notice is that we often say the words, “but other people have it much worse than me/us,” as a way of minimizing or trivializing our own pain & suffering. At funerals, we say the person is in a much better place or that God has a plan (which are both true) and pretend that we are fine, that are hearts aren’t shattered. In the Scriptures, God asks us for 1 thing above all. He asks us to bring who we are, everything we are, honestly and without pretense, to Him. He says that He doesn’t want our sacrifices, He wants our hearts. He weeps over the death of a man He intends to resurrect to validate the suffering of his community.

The Bible says, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death… and it’s that through that makes all the difference. We can’t walk around, or avoid, or fake that it’s not the shadow of death. We can’t get through anything without going through. My beautiful buddy’s eulogy had very evident pain and loss, and it also had a lived-in gratitude that his dad was his dad, and I’m pretty sure the 2nd doesn’t come without the first.

So, I guess what I’m saying is this: Sometimes you need ice cream to ease the ache of a broken heart, or screaming rage for a 3-week break from basketball, or an offering of bitter tears over dress socks. There are no comparatively minor’s with God. There is only us, and that’s enough.

10% More

Last week I told you about this leather bound notebook, a gift from my sister that I wrote quotes I find or ideas or things you say or do that I want to remember. Here’s one that’s very early in the book that might be particularly appropriate, here & now. Actually, it’s probably particularly appropriate whenever now is and wherever here is. It was originally said by a man named Hank Fortener.

Here it is: “How much is enough? The truth is…enough is enough, either now or never.”

I heard a statistic once that when people were asked how much income was enough, and the most common answer (from ALL income levels) was 10% more. Then, we could pay our bills and put some into savings and give to those charities we want and have a little left over to go out to the movies or to eat every now and again. Then, we would have enough. No matter how much we make, we think 10% more would be enough. We are always wrong, because then we neeeeeed another 10% more. It is never enough. If we meet somebody. If we get married. If we have a child. Or another. Or once they start going on the potty. Or going to school. Or once I get that job, that position. Or when I get that cleaner, that shampoo, those jeans. Or when we can retire…THEN, it will be different, better. THEN, we will have enough.

But it isn’t.

I don’t know when we learned that contentment is only found in more, but it simply isn’t true. If we are lacking now, right now, wherever we are, we will always lack. If we don’t appreciate what we have, the blessings, the people, the things, then we will never appreciate what we have, and any blessings, people, or things we receive/experience will pale in comparison to the next, the more that’s just around the bend.

Contentment is different from complacency.

Complacency is the mistaken belief that we are finished. That what we are at this moment is all we’ll ever be. That there’s no more to learn, discover. That we’re done growing. That (get ready for it….) it is what it is. Complacency has its roots in despair.

Contentment is security in our identity, confidence in our standing in the universe, stillness in our existence. We are content, peaceful, loved, and we belong here. We are on a journey and there’s joy and loss and fear and celebration and suffering at each step, but we continue to take the steps because there’s something going on here and we want to see what it is, but the journey itself is amazing and we don’t want to miss any part of this step, this moment, this snapshot of our lives in motion. The plant is beautiful today, it’ll grown into something very different tomorrow, but today, where it is right now is wonderful.

Complacency is a hideous lie. Contentment is awesome.

If we can’t (or won’t) dance today, what makes us think we’ll know how tomorrow, when the song changes? If we can’t (or won’t) enjoy that kiss, hug, or touch today, why would we assume tomorrow will magically bring a different response? No matter where we go, we are still there. The grass is never greener on the other side. The scenery might transform, but we’ll still interpret it through the same eyes.

So, what is it that we are waiting for?

My boy has been attending school 3 days/week at home (Tuesdays and Thursdays have been in person). Today is the last day. Monday he’ll go back full time. I’ll miss him more than he knows. I have absolutely LOVED him being at home with me. But Monday he’ll go because he must, and that’ll be ok, because we had this time, because we have today, and it is very, very good.

If & How

I have been thinking of taking a break from writing these posts. There are lots of reasons for this, the most compelling is that I am working on a new book and it’s call is getting louder and louder. I started working on it (the title is “Be Very Careful Who You Marry,” after a fantastic pearl of wisdom from my dad) months and months ago, and I sometimes let weeks go by without adding even a word. Life also gets quite busy and trying to do everything usually means the quality of that everything you’re trying to do decreases drastically, and that is something I can not abide. So, if something has to go, I’ve been thinking it would be this.

Then today, as I was cleaning up my emails, I saw one I wrote to myself late at night. It simply said, “I get to choose every day how I show up.” I don’t remember the context, if I saw it on Instagram or heard it in my own head, but today as I was scribbling it into my small leather bound notebook (a gift from my sister) to remember, it reminded me of this space.

It’s certainly true. First, we get to choose IF we show up. This is always, obviously, step 1. How can it be any other way?

But then, we choose HOW. Are we there physically, but not emotionally? Are we distracted, prisoners to the past or the future? Are we resentful and bitter about having to show up, as if we were forced to attend, victims?

OR are we engaged, interested, enthusiastic, connected?

This requires a great deal of work to decide what we will show up for, but once we do, we decide our own level of fulfillment. We decide what’s important, THEN what we will bring to the table, and finally, what we will receive from that same table.

I think this space is important. Whether anyone reads what I post here is a question for another day. Or maybe it’s not. Whether anyone reads what I post here has absolutely no bearing on my decision to do it or not. Our individual offerings are a sacred gift, this is one of mine, and sure, it is a gift to you, but more than that, it is a gift (a response) to the One who has given so generously to me. I can only give; how it is received is completely out of my control.

So, I decided a long time ago that this space is important. Maybe that will change, but until it does, I will show up and give you my heart, body, soul and mind, and how I will do it is fully present and aware that this is a gift, an offering.

Now that I think about it, that’s how I want to show up to every single thing I am blessed enough to experience.

I’ll write my book, too, and the first page will say “to my dad. thanks.’

15 Seconds

My good friend (and extraordinarily talented author) Cyn Morgan writes in her book, Misericorde (which you can and should get on Amazon): “May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity.”

I love that line, think it’s the perfect answer to the question we are always exploring: “Now what?” God created us, rescued/rescues us, accepts us, loves us without & beyond reason…now what? Well, Morgan is saying, now this. So, it’s awesome and I reference it often.

But in addition to an eloquent image of hope and beauty in practice, I suppose it also speaks to and defines the problem, doesn’t it? Kindness and generosity are in such short supply because thankfulness and appreciation are in such short supply.

I once read that a negative comment leaves an imprint on our psyche immediately, while a positive one requires 15 seconds. I don’t actually know if it is a scientific fact that you would find in journals and textbooks, but to be completely honest with you, I don’t care. I believe it, because it is absolutely true. We all believe it. It’s why 30 of “I like your new haircut” are forgotten after 1 thoughtless jab. Of course, we know the rude words of trolls only serve to display their wounded heart and insecurities, but that knowledge is utterly useless as we play and replay, feeling the hurt over and over. The haircut isn’t the point anymore, our worth and value are.

We don’t take the 15 seconds and let the lovely, the pure, the excellent and praiseworthy crowd out the trash. And there’s a lot of trash right now. Who could appreciate or be thankful for trash? Where are the blessings in that?

Another problem is that we live in a transactional economy. Nothing is for free, right? “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Receiving gifts, blessings, compliments with nothing in return is nearly impossible for us. It’s why I say, “you’ll have to come to my house next time,” or “I’ll pick up the check next time.” It’s why you get that knot in your stomach if someone gives you a Christmas gift and you don’t have one for them.

Now, what does this mean when it comes to God, grace, or salvation? I’ll tell you, it means entire systems of Jesus-plus religions that are wholly focused on sin management. Whole life games of chutes & ladders. Altars dedicated to the Should. Our spirituality becomes office buildings with door-keepers evaluating our work, grading our adherence to the great checklist in the sky. What we get isn’t a blessing, it’s compensation for a job well done or punishment for a job not so well done.

So, Tuesday, my revolution was to be thankful. (1 day – or small moments inside of 1 day – was more than enough of a beginning. That step was like going from 0 to a million.) My rebellion was to ignore the chains I usually carry on my shoulders around my neck that keep nagging me to prove my worth, and just bathe in the blessings of grace & love that have been poured on my life. For 15 seconds. Each. And it was wonderful. Like everything else, it was so much better than I could’ve imagined.

Let’s start with a paraphrase of only half of Morgan’s quote: “May we [be] thankful and appreciate our blessings [for 15 seconds at a time],” and then from there, who knows what’s possible????

9 Years

This week is the 9 year anniversary of tropical storm Lee. I talk about this particular storm so much because it started to rain on a Sunday and when it stopped on Thursday, my house was underwater and our lives would never be the same. We now refer to memories and personalities as Before the Flood and After the Flood. It’s 9 years later, though, and it’s fingerprint is still branded on our souls. I had a friend (a good friend, despite the story I’m about to tell;) who said to me about 5 months afterwards, “Isn’t it time to move on? It happened months ago.” I wonder what he’d say now, and I wonder if I’d still want to punch him when he did.

Sometimes you move on, but the scars are still there and sometimes they still ache.

We all were forced to closely examine our unhealthy relationships with control. Maybe that’s the biggest, most valuable loss – the delusion that we were ever in control. I thought I could be a superhero, protecting my family from all threats, keeping them safe and secure with my strength and will. As it turns out, my strength and will couldn’t stop the rain, couldn’t keep the water from swallowing my house, couldn’t make the insurance company make good on their promise, couldn’t make the family pictures reappear, couldn’t give anybody back what was lost.

This was a great big domino that started an avalanche. This horrible lesson/sledgehammer broke me open and walked me into many many more “couldn’t”s.

Now. Last week, in this space, we discussed control, the things that ARE actually ours to control, and taking it into settings, circumstances, situations. The flood, when it broke me open also broke my heart (a sledgehammer is NOT a particularly precise tool, that’s why we don’t use it to crack eggs) and when it healed, it formed in a different shape and pattern with grooves and texture that wasn’t there before.

I have bad skin, the consequence of years of abuse. I hated that skin for so long, was often disgusted when I would look in the mirror and see only imperfections. But now, when I see the marks on my face, I only see me. I’m not flawless. I’ve made poor decisions with food and drink and lifestyle and sunscreen. I’m getting pretty old and, where there once was a baby face stands someone’s husband and dad, wrinkled around the eyes and mouth from laughter and tears and lots and lots of smiles. I’ve been slapped, pinched, frozen in a questionable procedure by a dermatologist, scratched by cats, and on and on and on. But it’s my face and I wouldn’t change one thing.

And that heart that turned out to be wildly mistaken about my imaginary strength, will, superpowers, and control – it’s mine, I wouldn’t change one thing, and I’ll be taking this new broken/repaired heart everywhere I go, into every landscape and environment.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to some college students who were volunteering to clean “flood buckets” (buckets filled with supplies and sent to flood victims about). I jump at those chances now. You see, I don’t exactly want to talk about or even think about our flood anymore, but now it’s a different sort of story. It’s about what I couldn’t do. It’s about kindness & peace & opening up my hands to the things to which I was desperately grasping. It’s about value and “enough.” It’s about losing all of my stuff and discovering that I didn’t really care about that stuff at all. It’s about my face. It’s about the redemption of my heart.

It’s about Jesus. It’s a Gospel story, now, and it’s a very good one.