Friday, June 11, 2010

blue jays like brie

We're camping, yes camping. And I'm amazed at all the critters running around. Last night, our first night at Cachuma Lake, I was sure I heard a critter in the tent with us. So I woke up on red alert, with that jolt of adrenaline you get when you may have to do battle with a critter in your tent.

My hubby was snoring peacefully, so I rattled some stuff around to scare the thing off and shone my light on my cell phone in that direction to let them know the jig was up. Then I lay down and heard even more critters scurrying around in the night, just outside our tent, planning their next assault. I am certain that critters are well organized.

I lay there listening to the scurrying and scooting, scared of all the things I could not see. I imagined snakes and spiders and sinister looking birds, all eyeing our campground and wondered what kind of unknown creepy crawlies may be lurking out there in the night. I tried to comfort myself by remembering that they were God's creatures, too, so they must not be all bad, and that I was surrounded by a cocoon of protection. Surely God was looking after me and hadn't left on His own vacation. I though about how my imagination so often turned to tragedy, but that I was safe now, eternally safe since I met Jesus.

The next morning we got up and we had indeed been hijacked by some kind of critter, plastic bags torn into & the food inside sampled. Later that day, sitting and watching the squirrels and birds, a blue jay came down to visit me as I nibbled on some lunch. He kept his distance at first, watching me from a tree branch, twisting his head at every angle to get a good read on me. Then he jumped down to the ground about 3 feet from me, and stood very still for a long time, with the exception of his jerky head, and allowed me to get a better look. I admired his bright blue feathers, tucked nicely into his body, and his salt & pepper eyebrows. He did not leave for 10 minutes, but instead hopped around on his sturdy, thin legs until I was duly impressed.

Clearly, this bird was a professional. This was not his first picnic. Eventually, his patience was rewarded with a bit of brie rind, which he devoured and looked at me expectantly for more. It turns out I'm a sucker for handsome birds, so we shared some lunch and a peaceful moment together, and then we both went on our way.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

where the wild things are

I have a confession to make. I worry. A lot.

I suppose I have good reason. Here are some of them:

1) I have Mom Ears, which as every mother knows, is what happens immediately following the birth of your first child wherein you are gifted with super-sonic hearing that surrounds the entire perimeter and helps you a)determine that the baby is still breathing, and b)will alert the mother-lion instinct to any potential threat wherein she can devour said threat.

2) I lived for many years expecting someone to break in my house and kill me. Because they promised they would, and I believed them.

So some of my worry is normal mom-stuff and some of it is probably post traumatic stress disorder, and after 20 years it's all jumbled into one. I am a little high-strung, and have trouble relaxing & trusting that well, everything is going to be OK.

The committee comes to order, and the parade of terrible imaginings begin. And I know that "thoughts are things" and they have a certain power to take on a life of their own and I shouldn't be feeding those monsters, because they only get bigger & hungrier. Their appetites are insatiable, and most of the time they just hang around the perimeter of my Life, trying not to be noticed until night falls or the hair-trigger in my brain is pulled and BAM! they are large & in charge, whispering all the potential tragedy that could happen if I'm not careful.

Fear sucks.

So now I'm onto them, and am beginning to realize that they are not who they say they are- they are not the Truth. And as my friend Stacey Robbins said to me recently, "if fear is exponential, then so is Love." Meaning of course, that Love & goodness grow in the same way fear & doubt do. Only the outcome is infinitely more beautiful and you can sleep better at night.

The light bulb went off for me, and shone into the darkest corners of my heart.

Perfect Love really does drive out all fear. Jesus is that perfect Love. And by Jesus, I don't mean the myth or the religion or the bad press some Christians have gotten over the years. I mean the real Jesus, who turns ashes into beauty, water into wine, who heals the sick and causes the blind to see. The One who can handle our fears, our pain, our past, and take us by the hand and show us a better way.

There is no Truth greater than this.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Where's my Sackcloth and Ashes?

A few months ago I was angry. Well, actually I've been angry most of my adult life, but a few months ago, I was really angry. Like want to blow the place up kind of angry. It would seep out at the most inconvenient times, too. Just cruising along in a conversation and BAM! What the hell did you just say to me?

And frankly, it scared me- because I really did feel like I wanted to blow the place up, or at least make some dramatic changes, like maybe ride off into the sunset, never to return.

And well, nice girls just don't do that sort of thing.

So once again, I hit that point when the pain of staying the same is greater than the fear of making some changes. Not in my external circumstances, but within my own battered and broken heart.

This of course, was not easy. Oh, and did I mention terrifying?

I've spent my life trying to make others happy. Not in a healthy way, either. but in trying to manage everyone else's comfort and serenity- working hard to get that approval and recognition- we couldn't have done it without you, Jen.

I have lived a life that on the outside appeared relatively "successful" by some standards.

So I started telling the truth about my feelings, which was not as easy as it sounds, because I had no idea what they actually were, or where they were coming from. But someone I trusted said, start identifying them and writing them down and that is a good place to start.

I kept trying to tell her, I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore. She would just look at me sweetly and say, "oh honey, tell me again about when you were a little girl..." Like redirecting a toddler that insists on climbing up something that isn't age-appropriate, she just kept bringing me back to the real cause of my anger. She kept saying anger is never the first feeling-its a response to something else, something more, well tender, and infinitely more vulnerable. Its the response that follows hurt.

"Well everybody's been hurt, I mean its no big deal right? My hurt is no bigger than your hurt or anybody's hurt, so shouldn't I just be able to get over it?" I asked with some defensiveness.

And then she told me essentially its not a contest, and mine is mine and the only way to get through it is to walk through it- to feel it and grieve and cry and blow your nose a lot. Well that just doesn't sound too appealing to me- my people don't really do that, I tried to tell her with some conviction.

Another guy smarter than me on the topic told me that back in the day people who were in mourning would put on a sackcloth and ashes for a time, so people would recognize their current emotional state and give them some space & respect. We don't do that anymore and instead are encouraged to "get on with it" and "overcome" and for God's sake, don't take any time of work and let your company down or not wear makeup for a day because you have responsibilities and people will look at you like you're defective.

The Dr. will give you a prescription or you can use the old stand-by's of food, drink or other people to numb your pain. It's perfectly understandable, after all. So you get on with it, and never quite heal and walk around with an emotional limp for a long time until finally you realize its not working anymore and you've got to do something about it. That's when the fun starts and you realize you really do need to walk through it to get to the other side and all this avoidance has only made things worse. I found out this is a good time to get some quality support from people who have been there and can be trusted to help you navigate your way through it. Much has been written on the topic, and Anne Lamott has a beautiful chapter on it in her book Travelling Mercies.

The gist of it is that when you open yourself up to the grieving process of whatever in your past needs to be mourned, then you wash away that old junk that's been blocking your heart from pumping all the joy you deserve into your Life, and those around you. God comes in and performs miracles and healing and comforts you in a way I cannot adequately describe, and you will see glimmers of hope that are beyond your wildest dreams.

We're called into freedom, real freedom, and we've been creating in Love, and as a dear friend said to me today, our real life's work is returning to that Love. And it takes as long as it takes, that part's not a contest, either. Last summer I heard Paul Young, author of The Shack, said his mourning took 11 years. What a relief to know that its ok, and that just because mine has taken a long time doesn't mean there's something "wrong" or that I'm not "doing it right."

So my question for you, dear reader is this: is there something in your Life that still needs a time of grieving? Will you be kind and loving to yourself in the same way that you would a friend who was hurting? How have you successfully travelled this road in the past? And most importantly, would you be willing to walk through the experience to get to the other side, if you were absolutely certain there was joy, peace & healing on the other side?

Because of all the Truth in Life, this one is the most certain.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

5 Generations Later: A Prayer is Answered

I caught a glimpse of the scope of an answered prayer the other day,and it shook me to my core. I happened to be driving down the 101 freeway, somewhere south of Salinas, Greenfield maybe, coming home from my gramma's funeral. Alone in my car, I realized that my great grandparent's prayers had been answered, 5 generations later. My mind grasped it for just a moment, and it cracked open my heart so wide, and then the tears came from so way down deep, I had to pull the car over.

My great grandparents, Art & Ruth, loved Jesus. They had children, some of whom continued in their faith, and some of whom did not. My branch of the family tree did not. Instead, we developed a snarky cynicism. We got pretty good at it, too, and making fun of Christians became a favorite past time with nasty remarks, rude jokes & loud broadcasts of silly sounding evangelists on Sunday morning for the Jeep Club camping set. The message was clear: Christianity was a joke.

I intentionally avoided becoming a Christian, as my dad had before me, and his dad before him. My kids were not given the benefit of growing up in an established faith. "they can choose for themselves when they're older" was my approach.

We were ripped off.

One of the saddest moments of my Life was when my dad was trying to get sober through AA, and said to me, "Jeni, I don't think this AA thing is going to work for me... I don't have a God." I just stood there not knowing what to say. He was dead in less than a year.

Operating under our own power only works for so long. Eventually, we all need something bigger to believe in, to accomplish the things we cannot accomplish on our own. But we have this free will thing going for us, and so sometimes we accept beliefs that are not really our own, just because our parents did before us.

A few years ago, I hit rock bottom and surrendered my will and my Life over to God- a sort of spiritual "uncle"... I gave up and asked for help. I didn't understand God's nature at all, and didn't think He was particularly interested in helping me out. I was the bad kid, the bad wife, the bad mom: a real wreck of a human being. The real truth is, I didn't think He would take me back.

So my journey began, and He's been rebuilding me from the inside out, but that Story is for another time.

What I'm trying to get at here, is that I know my great-grandparents Art & Ruth prayed for me- prayed for all their children, grand children and on down into future generations. I think they prayed especially hard for those of us in the branch of the family tree that had fallen off- that would have to be grafted back in later on. I know they did. As a mom, I pray for my children and unborn grandchildren and future generations with an inherent passion that I know reaches the Heavens. It's almost involuntary and automatic. So my great grandparents prayers for my kids and I were heard, and eventually they were played out in the most amazing, beautiful way.

Here's the best part:

My aunt Dorothy (Art & Ruth's daughter) chatted with me at my gramma's funeral and asked where we were living now. Orange County, I said. And her face lit up and she said, "oh our son Rick is the Chaplain at the Juvenile Hall there! We are so proud of him. He just loves those kids- many of them really turn their lives around and some even become pastors"!

It was not until the next day, driving down the 101, that I began to realize my son was in and out of that juvenile hall, and had accepted Christ and done the majority of his Bible study while he was there. It has changed his Life- he is a walking miracle, evidence of God's power to transform.

Was it possible that Rick had ministered to him? What if they had talked and the seeds of faith were planted in Jeremy by a blood relative? This could not be a coincidence! I suddenly knew that God had orchestrated the timing and placement of Rick & Jeremy to connect, in of all places, juvenile hall, and had worked His way into our lives through my great grandparents original prayers. How amazing that He would do this for our family! How amazing that it would be revealed through a casual conversation years later! Once again, the magnitude of God's creativity and persistent Love overwhelmed me, which is when I had to pull the car over.

A few days later I confirmed all this with my son- I cried and went on about the gravity of this miracle. He said calmly, "God, does this stuff all the time, Mom."

The intimacy with which God pursues and reveals Himself to us over the course of our Lifetime is nothing short of miraculous. I've found His approach, especially who and how He works through, always surprising and unexpected, and usually ironic and funny. I love that He can do whatever, whenever and however He wants, but it seems that usually He just hangs back and works quietly in the background until it's time for the Big Reveal.

And so today I called my Aunt Dorothy to share the story of what God had done, through her parent's prayers and her mothering of a son that God worked through to reach my son. She was amazed and commented how good God is, how He had his hand on our family all the time- everything that we'd been through, we were under His protection all along. We clucked and cooed about how amazing it all was, what a good story for us share. And I hung up the phone feeling satisfied that I was finally at a place in my Life that I could tell the truth about all of it.

And again I caught a glimpse of the bigger picture- the one that stretches out 5 generations and even into eternity. It's so full of loveliness and kindness and grace... my little speck of a heart and mind can hardly contain it.

don't trip, He isn't through with me yet

God is nothing like I imagined him to be. He’s way cooler.

I imagined a never ending struggle to be good enough- to work really hard and earn enough grace points to make God happy. If successful, I was hoping I could count on Him to do me special favors. If I failed, I imagined he might scowl down at me in disapproval; shaking his head and withholding affection until I cleaned up my act.

I confused God and people as having the same annoying tendencies to judge, criticize and disappoint.

Where I’ve found the most surprise is in how deeply God loves me: unconditionally, without fail or qualification. This has been hard for me to accept. That even “as is” the Creator of the Universe wants to spend time with me...that nothing I’ve done to try and convince Him otherwise, can change His plan for our eternal relationship. He's really kind of stubborn about it, if you want to know the truth.

His imagination and creativity aren’t hindered by my weakness. I simply don’t have that much power. Instead, He’s teaching me that His Strength is made perfect- perfect!- in my weakness. Probably because when I finally admit I can't run my world on my own, I ask for help and give him room to work.

He’s teaching me that He loves the broken-hearted, really messed up folks, like me.

He sought them out, in fact, during his short stay on earth. He seemed to love spending time with all manner of unsavory characters- prostitutes, tax collectors, common and disreputable types. Even his hand-picked disciples were a dense, rowdy bunch. He chose a murderer of Christians to become the most influential advocate of His power to forgive and transform.

It was the religious types he disliked- the hypocrites and posers that really pissed him off. It is the sick who need healing, he said, and that he came to the world NOT to condemn, but to save.

Seems pretty straight forward, right? Then how is it that I confused God as condemning, distant, harsh, unreasonable and irrelevant in modern times? My theories are still developing, but suffice it to say in this little note that I believe there’s a force in the universe that doesn’t want us to know the truth, and that humans have consistently had trouble relating and communicating with and about God.

How do we overcome this? Simply by believing the outrageous claim that God is all good, all the time- and that He loves each one of us so much, that he figured out how to reconnect with us and sent his only Son to save the world, that whoever would believe in Him (even just a little) would have abundant and everlasting life.

His name is Jesus. His claim is too simple, and sounds too good to be true- just believe that I exist- ask me to be a part of your life and I will. I’ll make all things right if you just let me, just surrender- let me be God, and you be you. But only if you invite me, only if you really want me to.

I’m not saying I have all the answers, and this is just a bit of what I’ve learned so far. And if I come off as a self-righteous know it all, or otherwise screw up the purity of the message, I’m reminded of the wisdom of Steve Harvey regarding such matters: “Don’t trip, He isn’t through with me yet.”