Awake

I’m one of those people who picks a word of the year every year. Typically, I make a low-grade production of it early in January as a sort of milestone to help me look back, be aware, and ask God what he’s trying to teach me through this word. I always put some prayer behind picking my word because I want to make sure it’s something God wants me to work on and not just something I think is cool or would be fun or would make a popular Instagram post. Not that I’ve ever been guilty of that before or anything; you know, I hear some people might do that.

This year, I prayed and looked at lists and really struggled to settle on a word that made sense to me. Every other year I’ve done this, I felt one word jump out and flash in front of me in a way there was no mistaking it. This year I wrestled with a few words that didn’t hold up while one word kept peeking out from behind.

Why AWAKE? It didn’t make sense to me and didn’t resonate with me. I sort of thought I already was awake. I mean, I’ve been in recovery and therapy and all the self-aware places for a long time. For. A. Really. Long. Time. If I wasn’t awake by now was it ever really going to happen? I would slam my laptop closed and walk away. But every time I went back at it, there was that word again. AWAKE.

So I went with it. And I waited. I waited for something to make sense or jump out or speak to me. January turned to February and then March. Nothing. I began to think maybe I was being foolish and had picked the wrong word. But then, mid-March, some things started shifting. There were moments, instances, brief happenings when I felt like my eyes were being opened. And not like a gentle sun rising through the curtains sort of eye-opening. These moments felt like when a friend dumps a bucket of ice on the first kid to fall asleep at a sleepover. These were eyes wide open moments. I was awake.

There were things about my health, things about my parenting, things about my marriage, things I believed to be true and weren’t, and things I thought were lies but were true. I was waking up to lies I had told myself since childhood and truth I had ignored for years.

AWAKE.

When a person is working the 12-Steps in their life, they are supposed to take inventory of behaviors and not allow themselves to sit in denial of how these behaviors affect their life and the lives of the people around them. In a sense, stepping out of denial is like an awakening. I am very aware of certain behaviors I have a tendency to slip into. But I have been struggling to get to the root of one. Numbing my pain. I have become such a pro at numbing the pain of stress, anger, heartache, etc. that I had slipped into denial that I was doing it most of the time. I was numbing in so many ways that I didn’t even realize what I was doing.

Years ago I had a therapist tell me that the state of your desk at work and your closet at home is a good tell on the state of your mind. I don’t know that I buy into that as an absolute, but I can tell you that my desk and my closet are both out of control.

I’ve always felt like the state of my body is a better indicator of how I’m doing spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I can tell you in all honesty that I weigh more right now that I ever have in my entire life. All that numbing meant packing on layer upon layer to protect me. It meant mindless choices to eat and drink, drink and eat, all in hopes of feeling something, experiencing something other than what was in front of me.

This puts me in a quandary. It was only a year and a half ago that I made a fairly public proclamation that I was done treating my body so terribly. I announced to the world that I was tired of mistreating myself and ignoring my health and pretending I’m not a diabetic. I went on a KETO diet and told everyone. I did a 21 day fast from alcohol and grains and ate less than 20 carbohydrates a day. I started dropping weight like crazy and felt amazing. Then the holidays hit and I cheated a little here and a little there but always got back on track. Then the spring came and was full of celebrations and parties and I fudged some and it was harder to get on track. And then when summer arrived, I leaped off the wagon willingly and quickly. I said I didn’t need strict rules. I told myself I could manage myself, my weight and my health and my spirit, without the need of a diet. Diet was a 4-letter-word.

I was closing my eyes to the reality that I am an emotional eater. I was pretending I’m not a food addict. I was lying to myself that I could deal with my marriage and parenting and job just fine on my own and that having an extra serving at dinner or popping a few pieces of chocolate on a stressful day didn’t mean I was out of control. I told myself that everyone eats ice cream when they’re stressed or grabs a snack bag of chips to take the edge off. I laughed at people who couldn’t hole their wine because I was quickly becoming the lady who could hold my fair share and yours as well. And with all these choices, I was diving into the depths of denial. Denial is a warm and cozy place where I could curl up under a blanket and go to sleep, pretending the troubles of the world weren’t mine and that I didn’t need to deal with them anymore.

God wants me to wake up. He wants me to throw back the blanket and step into the sun. His Son came to live and die so that I could be freed from slavery to sin. He broke the chains of sin and death for me to live in the freedom he offers freely. I would love to tell you I got out of bed one morning and was wide awake to my issues and dropped them off at the side of the road. I’d love to be able to write that my mind was opened, my heart was healed, and I haven’t touched a carb since. But that is not the case.

Here’s what I’m doing. I am praying every single day for God to open my eyes to the moments, the triggers, the people, the instances, that make me reach for food or drink instead of Jesus. I am asking him to help me be present when I eat. This means engaging with the people at the table. Back up. This means sitting at a table and not eating on the run. It means putting the phone or tablet away and looking people in the eye. It means sitting down my fork and spoon and breathing between bites.

Being awake to this issue also means treating my body with love and respect because it’s a gift from God. I have strong legs that used to run very fast. I have hands that write, type, create, and love. My hands held my babies hands and still do when they let me. My eyes are not as strong as they used to be but they’ve seen beauty and ugly, joy and pain. They’ve read thousands of stories. They’ve looked into eyes of people who love me and people who don’t. My curves have grown and changed through my life – from giving birth, from having a hysterectomy, to entering menopause. My curves give my husband a place to hold me, to love me.

But I want to be healthy with both my body, my heart, my mind, and my soul. They’re all so connected that I can’t separate them…and I’ve been trying to do that for much of my adult life. So here I am, putting myself out here – AGAIN – saying I’m trying. I’m asking God to help me. This attempt to hand it all over to God has daunted me for years. I’ve given in, I’ve given up, and I’ve tried again. This habit of numbing has been the heaviest set of shackles I’ve ever worn and I’m ready to be free.

Twenty Years

Charlie Lexow and I were painfully young when we got married. I was 21 and he was 22. He was 22 and 2 days to be exact. We were not rich, in fact, we were the opposite. We had zero dollars. We had no savings and our income was laughably small, as it should be when you are just starting out. We thought, of course, with our new careers, our new apartment, and ability to finally buy beer legally, that we could conquer the world.

There are a lot of things I’d like to go back and tell that young couple, but I would never tell them how hard life would be for them. I would never take away that belief that nothing would be able to knock them down. Because the truth is, nothing would be able to knock them down…permanently. There would be plenty to trip them up, roll them over, knock the wind out of them, and lay them flat on their backs. They were not invincible, but there were teachable. And that’s how I’d still describe us today.

We just celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary; we’ve been together for twenty-two years all total. The familiar joke would say, “and almost all of them have been happy.” But it’s true. I always wonder about couples that are 40, 50, 60 years in and say they never fought. I always think they’re either lying or one of them has ground meat for a tongue from biting it for so many years. We’ve had more than our fair share of fights. We’ve had small and silly fights and we’ve had big and scary fights. We’ve had fights that ended in laughter and we’ve had fights that ended in tears. We’ve had fights that were healthy and appropriate conflict and we’ve had fights that were embarrassingly inappropriate. We’ve sought help and we’ve kept them private. But through it all, love has brought us back together.

We used to make it a priority to go on dates regularly and take at least one vacation without the kids every year. We never abandoned our dates, but in the last 5-6 years, the vacations fell to the wayside. As the kids got older, when it’s so much easier to leave them, we started having guilt about leaving them because we have started counting down the summers we have left before they go to college. And we moved to a new house. And there were job stresses. And…

This time of refueling, of reconnecting, of being alone together should never have been neglected. Sure, going on dates is essential and helps a married relationship stay fresh. But there is something about going away, disconnecting from work and kids and technology that is so valuable; it’s priceless. We are at a place in marriage and in life in general where we were able to save some money and do a big trip; a 9-day cruise in the Caribbean. But in the early days, the days when the kids were both in diapers, and we were paying for childcare, the trips were smaller and less expensive. Or we saved longer and did without more in the meantime. But we made sure those trips happened.

One of the promises we made when we got married was that we would always be Team Lexow. We both came from families with parental splits, with broken promises and hearts. We were determined to break the cycle and, whenever we had kids, never put them through that sort of heartache. That has been the hardest promise either of us have ever made and kept in our entire lives. We had no idea. We had no clue how deep the childhood hurts ran. We had no idea how the damage would show up in our own lives. We were clueless as to how we would react in certain situations, even when we thought for sure we knew what to do. While we thought our young love would tie us together as a team, we had no idea we were facing a war and not a game. We had no idea how the world would pressure us. We were clueless as to how hard balancing jobs and bills and kids and friends and dreams would be. We never knew that even though we had a great deal of love and respect for each other, we would need to be bound together like welded steel.

I’m so grateful for this trip we took together to celebrate our twentieth. I’m so thankful for the people who held the forts down for us while we were gone – at my job, at his job, and especially with our kids. I’m thankful for the people who prayed for us while we were gone – for our safety, for our health, and our connection. I’m grateful we decided to disconnect from technology on the majority of the days. We were able to connect when there was no phone, no laptop, no iPad to distract us. We relearned how to look into each other’s eyes and have a conversation. We learned to laugh again – to really laugh – at each and with each other. We remembered how good it feels to sit still together and have nowhere to be except in each other’s company. We learned it had been too long and that we shouldn’t wait to do this again.

So here’s to twenty years with the love of my life. And here’s to fighting the good fight and holding on tight and never giving up. Here’s to the days when we don’t know how we’ll ever make it and the days when we can’t imagine not. I thank God for the opportunity to learn about life and love, mercy and grace, forgiveness and joy with this man. I pray we have at least another seventy together and that we vacation together every one of those years.

Getting ready to board Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas after a day in Haiti.

A Year in Review

I did a thing this year and I’m not completely sure I’m okay with it. 

I didn’t order Christmas cards.

I know. It’s not that big of a deal but I always do Christmas cards. I’ve done them every year (I think) since we got married. Except one year when I declared simplicity over the entire holiday season and immediately jumped back to crazy holiday season the next year.

This has been a year. It’s been a year of recovery and rebuilding and questioning. It’s been a year to look at why we do the things we do and do the things really matter. I’m learning to ask, “In one year, will I care that I did this?” and “Will the fallout of me not doing this thing matter next week? Next month?”

Christmas cards were dropped in the process. They just felt like a really huge expense for something that most people will throw away. And the reality is that social media keeps us all so up to date on the people we care about, that I didn’t think anyone would miss it. Of course, there’s still the chance that I will be wrong and I’ll be flooded with complaints from people who missed the Lexow Family card. But I doubt it.

Instead, I decided to write a year in review and fill you in on the things you may or may not have known about in our lives. Here goes nothing…

January – We had snow in Texas. Most of you know that and if you don’t, it means you aren’t in Texas and are wondering why snow would make a year in review. We don’t get snow in Houston very often. It’s super rare. But we had ice, and then snow, and then a little more ice, and a little more snow.

Shelby was clearly very excited.

As Kingwood began to rebuild from Harvey, we started seeing signs of normalcy slowly enter in. Not really normal, because whether you flooded or not, you were changed. But it really helped when stores started to reopen.

One or two of us in this picture may or may not have shed a couple tears when we went in.

I died my hair purple early in the year. I had been letting the natural gray grow out and decided it made me sad. I had nice gray; not the yellow dingy kind. No, mine was gray and white and silver and it was lovely. But it still made me sad. So naturally, I went purple. 

Charlie Lexow is a good man.

He’s loved me through a lot of color over the years.

I went to Waco in February with my friend, Denise. We stayed with our friend, Kathy, and went to see Kelly Minter. We also went to the Silos because JoAnna Gaines is life. It was a really amazing weekend. Denise had declared this year to be “The Year of Fun” and it looked like we were off to a good start.

We always take pictures of Denise standing next to things for size comparison later.

In March, we welcomed a group of kids from Penn State who had come down to help with Harvey recovery work. They were led by this giant I know. We had dinner with them, talked all things Penn State, and sent them into some rough parts of town to help with clean up.

WE ARE!

Sometime around Easter, we gave up life as we knew it and threw everything into overdrive. The days went faster and faster and all of a sudden we found ourselves doing “lasts” with Shelby. 

She was confirmed, went to the 8th grade formal, and had her final middle school orchestra concert. The idea of sending this girl, who I swear was 5 about 3 days ago, to high school was swimmingly overwhelming.

Some of our dearest friends came to see us in May. Michelle gets only a handful of days with her husband each month due to his job travel. The fact that she shared some of those days with us proves that she is an amazingly generous friend; not that she needed to prove it. I already knew. She’s awesome. 

We took them to Galveston to walk on the beach and see the blue water. It’s only blue after hurricanes come and suck the nasty out, so we all needed to see it. We are actually praying it’s never blue again if a hurricane is the only way for that to happen.

I’m not usually one to brag about my job but I’m about to do so. Vacation Bible School this year was just about the coolest thing ever. I think it’s safe for me to brag because I was probably the least cool thing about it. We had awesome families connecting with each other, family dinners each night, so much fun, and THE DELPINO BOYS ON SCOOTERS! It was so completely rad to see these brothers using their gifts for God’s Kingdom. 

I snapped this shot while they were warming up. They did jumps and flips and drove the crowd wild!

We went to Illinois in July to see all of our Marion people. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say it might have been the best visit ever. We can relax there like no where else. The sunsets are gorgeous, the friends are hilarious, and the laughter is from the deepest places in the belly. Good belly laughs make life worth living.

And then, in the spirit of Denise’s Year of Fun, we loaded up a 2010 Camry and drove to Oklahoma! Talk about a wild trip! We drove to Tulsa, spent the night with Denise’s Aunt Mimi, got up and drove to Pawhuska to eat lunch at The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile, and then we drove home. On the way home we stopped just into Texas and noticed a Paula Deen restaurant next to our hotel. Of course we had to go!

Did we drive to Oklahoma to have lunch? Yes we did. Dinner was a bonus.

Do you have friends who make you pee a little when you laugh? I’m not willing to loan you mine so if you don’t, you should really find some.

Shelby and Seth went back to Camp Lonestar this year. It’s probably one of their favorite places in the whole world. They go with a group from our church every year. And every year they come home with stories of adventure, fun, and life changing moments with Jesus. It’s so good. It’s so, so good.

I spoke at the Renew Faith Conference in August. It was a giant room full of women who needed refreshment from God’s Spirit. I believe they got it. Not because of me; I was only a small part. No, God brought nourishment to all of us through music and speakers, worship and learning.

Lots of firsts hit us as fall approached. Seth had his first day of 7th grade, Shelby had her first day of high school, and I had my first day of school. Yep, I went back to school. I’m getting certified in children and family ministry. I’ve only been doing it in real life for about 18 years so I figured it was time to get a piece of paper that says I’m legit. You know, in case anyone starts nosing around.

Shelby went to her first high school homecoming, too. It almost made Charlie Lexow cry when he saw how gorgeous she looked. Y’all, I’m not just saying this because I grew her…she really is beautiful on the inside and the outside. 

We participated in Addi’s Faith Foundation’s Walk by Faith 5k again this year. If you don’t know about AFF, I really encourage you to check out all they are doing for pediatric brain cancer research. They are helping families who are in the thick of the battle and they are fighting fiercely to find a cure.

This was the 10th Annual Walk by Faith 5k and it was the 2nd year it was held at University of Houston.

We had more great visitors from the north come see us for Thanksgiving. The Lawrence Family decided to become travelers and made the trek to see us all the way from Illinois. We laughed and laughed and laughed some more while they were here. We ate too much, drank too much, and told a million old stories. 

Can I just say, that if we have nothing else in this life, Charlie Lexow and I have some amazing friends.

We took them to see the San Jacinto Monument and gave them a quick Texas history lesson.

I think that mostly brings us up to date. The kids have finally grown taller than me, which we all knew was coming sooner or later. Charlie Lexow is in year 20 with Shell Oil. I’m about to complete year 18 at the church. Shelby is 15, Seth is 13, and Ron Burgundy is 2. 

We are hoping for some restful days over Christmas and New Years, but we’d never turn down a visit from friends. So if you find yourself hankering for a drive, come on over. We’d love to have you!

I hope you have the merriest of Christmas’s and the most blessed New Year ever.

The Lexows 2018

I Am Thankful

I printed off Thanksgiving planner pages today. Yes, I’m that girl. I have a paper planner, and I love it. I tried to go digital for a few years, and it just didn’t work for me. I’m a hand to paper to memory person. I don’t learn it unless I see it, hear it, write it down, and see it again. Learning about the way I learn has been of immense value to how I function in day to day life. My paper planner brings me some sense of calm. And it also plays to my creative side because I have assigned different colored pens to different family members and I use stickers like a second grader. The more stickers, the better the page. I’m here for all the stickers.

So I printed off five pages this morning to insert into my planner; pages designed to help me plan and coordinate our Thanksgiving meal. There’s a guest list, a menu page, a prep list, a recipe list, and a cooking schedule. I’m fully aware of my nerdiness when I explain the delight I had in laying these pages out in a way that felt efficient and sensical.

I immediately started running the numbers. Who’s coming, how much turkey do I allot to their kids, and what sides do I include? Which tasks do I pass off? What activities do I plan for the children? And what color pen do I use to keep track of all these plans????

I had to stop and laugh at myself for a minute. Am I really getting this excited over the planning of one day? Yes. Yes, I am. But really, it’s more than just the day. I am so thankful for all of the reasons I GET to plan this day.

I have a husband and children who love me. I have a family who loves me. I have friends traveling from far, far away because they love me. I have friends nearby who want to spend the day with us because of their love. I have a house with a roof and walls and two ovens to cook food for all of us. I have food to cook because my husband and I  both work very hard at our jobs – jobs that pay us to do things we are good at and love to do. I have clothes to wear. I have both air conditioning and a heater, and because we live in Houston, we may use both of them on the same day.

I have the freedom to gather all these people in my home and feed them delicious food because so many brave men and women fought for that freedom. I have health. I have time. I have energy.

I recently took a turn for the better in my thought process. I came to some conclusions and saw some lies for what they were. I accepted some truths and made peace with some longings that will never be. I exhaled. I exhaled a stale and painful breath I had been holding for so many years, and when I did, I was able to inhale gratitude. I realized that I’m going to be okay with whatever the road looks like ahead of me. I may not like it but I’ll be okay. You see, God is bigger than the lies of my past. He’s bigger than the burdens I carried for so long. He is stronger than the biggest stronghold of my life. He’s higher than the pain, and he is more vibrant than the joys. He’s everything. And I am thankful.

Spoiler Alerts, Triggers, and Hearing from God

Does God speak to his children? I believe he does. I know a lot of people out there think the idea of hearing God speak is just crazy talk; that the thought of sitting down and knowing what God is saying makes one certifiable. And yet I believe.

I’ve never walked a trail and encountered a burning bush that called my name. I’ve never seen the sky open and heard a voice call down to me.  And I’ve never woken to an angel giving me a word of hope or encouragement. But I have felt my heart tremble at a song, and I’ve felt my skin jump up at the end of a prayer. And I’ve cried out to God from the depths of my sorrow when my heart was cracking in two, and I felt his answer seep into the crevice.

So for the last six months or so, you can imagine my despair, when I felt nothing. My prayers were met with stillness. My cries were followed by silence. I was frustrated and felt alone; abandoned. But in the days leading up to my recent trip to New York to teach at a women’s retreat, stories fell together, scriptures made sense, and holes in my work filled in miraculously. I knew that even though I wasn’t hearing God or feeling his comforting presence, he was there. He was there, and he was speaking and working in spite of me. I was praying over and over for him to speak through me; to use my words for good. I begged him to work miracles in the lives of the women I was flying to see because I wanted them to know his love and grace genuinely. So in spite of my inability to understand what he was doing, he did great things anyway.

I had made a terrible habit of avoiding God when I was sad or in pain. My head could tell you that he’s always there and that he would never abandon. My head would quote scripture to remind you of his faithfulness. My head would retell stories from my life when God carried me through the storms. But my heart, as of late, has been falling back into old habits of numbing my emotional pain. As I have battled depression, I have slipped back into a handful of chips here, a bowl of rice there, an extra glass of wine after dinner. I have bought things I didn’t need for myself or things my family didn’t need, but I knew they would love…all for the high of a smile, a thank you, a compliment.

In numbing my pain, I have been avoiding my Jesus, who is the healer of pain. I  cut myself off from he who is capable of cuddling me in my sorrow. And somewhere, in my recovery schooled brain, I knew what I was doing. So I started pushing back the people in my life who are most likely to cause me the most profound pain. Who are the people who can hurt us the worst? Why, the people we love the most, of course. So, I have put certain people at arm’s length, making sure not to feel their intense love, thinking it would protect me from inevitable pain.

Until this weekend, I let my guard down, and I allowed myself feel. And I felt all the feels. I laughed so hard and so loud, and I felt melt-your-heart joy. I felt butterflies in my stomach and sappy love. And then I went to a movie with my husband. We went to see one I’ve been waiting for months to see. One that everyone under the sun is talking about because it stars one of Hollywood’s most handsome and talented men and one of the music industries brightest and most intriguing talents. The movie was about addiction and codependency, and I knew that going in. I had prepared my heart. What I hadn’t steeled myself for was a suicide. A suicide in a garage.

Listen, this movie is very well-written. And it’s a remake…well-written remakes don’t happen every day! The foreshadowing was there and in place, and I knew something awful was going to happen but I didn’t know suicide and I didn’t know in a garage. So as I sat in the movie theater, the tears starting flowing down my face hard and fast. The immediate flashbacks of finding my mom in the garage, even though her suicide method differed from the character in the move, were flashing across my mind in technicolor. Heat rose in my face, and I was terrified to breathe because I didn’t want to blubber out a sob in the theater full of viewers who were managing their tears with dignity and quietness. I could feel the collar of my t-shirt soaking the tears, and I knew I would be a total mess when the lights came on, which they did. And I did. My husband looked at me and said, “How did you not know it would be like that?” I was dumbstruck.

I had read so many reviews. I had read people talking about this movie on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. And yet not one previous viewer share a spoiler. I didn’t know. I was slapped in the face with grief that was so misplaced. The sadness of the movie directly triggered the pain from my past and ripped it from the deepest places of my heart and smeared it all over my face and neck.

And then I got angry. I was so mad at myself for allowing my walls to come down this weekend. I had let myself feel other feelings and taken down so many blocks in my fortress of protection. And when I allowed myself to feel all of the feelings, sadness waltzed in like it was welcome. So I placed an order from my favorite local Mexican restaurant and opened a bottle of wine. Let the numbing commence and the bricks go back up!

But this morning, I had to show up for an online class I’m taking. I had to read about detachment styles, and I had to discuss (openly with a group) how to effectively listen for God’s voice. After the discussion, we took a break for journaling and prayer. I shut off my laptop camera to shut out my group, and I took a deep, cleansing breath. And then he spoke.

“My sweet girl, you live your whole life in fear of abandonment anymore. You carry around assumptions that the people you love the most will hurt you, or worse, leave you. You tell children God is always with them and loves them forever. You tell women that they have no secrets from God, no places he can’t love. Your head knows it to be true for you, but your heart is struggling to trust me. Won’t you make a habit of sitting quietly with me? Won’t you let me fill your aches with my love so you won’t feel the need to numb yourself? Please don’t distract yourself from your pain. Let me stroke your pain with my hand of gentleness until you know my healing in the deepest part of your soul. I long for our relationship to be filled with your trust.”

So, I guess the journey continues. I continue down the path of learning and listening. This life of following God isn’t easy. I wish I could bring you along with me with such a promise, but I can’t do that to you. I can’t lie. Turning over my hurts and habits have never been easy. Allowing God in to heal my places is not as simple as it sounds. But he will never force me back; he will never coerce me. He doesn’t want to put a leash on me and train me. No, my God loves me so much, and he has given me the free will to love him back. He wants me to want him. Sometimes I drift away, and he lets me. And when I drift, I feel the longing to be comforted and healed but I have spent so much of my life trying to fill that longing with other people and other things. They never satisfy. Never.

I hope that the spoilers and triggers of this weekend, the voice I heard from him this morning will draw me back into his arms. I want to lay in his lap and feel his arms around me. And I want you to know that he doesn’t just want this from me. He has placed the same holes and same desires in you. He calls for us both; us all.

Psalm 138:8

“The Lord will fulfill (his purpose) for me; Your love, O Lord, endures forever – You do not abandon the works of Your hands.”

The Thorns of Suffering

I snuggle up on my couch last night with my laptop in lap. My kids were doing homework, Charlie Lexow was reading, and I needed to edit a piece I’ve been working on that I will present in a few weeks. I had turned the television on, mostly for noise, but I tend to be particular about my noise. I searched the TV Guide, looking for an old movie that I’d seen enough times not to need to follow along but pleasant enough that I could look up occasionally and enjoy a scene. I stopped on The Green Mile.

The Green Mile is a movie released in 1999, based on a Stephen King novel, and is one of those movies you have to watch to understand. Michael Clarke Duncan (God Rest His Soul) plays John Coffey. He always says, “Like the drink but spelled different.” John is on death row for raping and killing two little girls, and while I certainly feel the window for spoiler alerts closes long before 20 years, I won’t tell you how it turns out. I will say, however, that John has a miraculous gift which he uses to change the prison guards who care for him, in addition to many others. When faced with what to do in the end, the guards are trying to offer John a way out.  He tells them this gift that is bringing so much beauty to others, but it is like glass in his head. He says the shards of glass cause him hurt and he’s ready to be done.

As I watched the scene last night, one I’ve seen a hundred times before, tears started to roll down my face. I understand what it feels like to want the pain to stop. I’ve been there, and I’ve fought that demon many times before.

I saw a post on Instagram this week about depression. September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day and as I was scrolling through all the posts encouraging us to reach out to the sad and hurting around us. I was caught by one post, in particular, that spoke an impressive amount of truth about depression. I wish I had saved it so I would know who to credit. I wish I had said it myself so I could take credit because the words are so on point. She said that when you see a commercial on television for anti-depressant medication, the general theme is about sadness. The people are sad, they hold up smiley faces to cover their frown, and they talk about an overwhelming sadness. For the general public, who might not understand depression, they think that if their friends don’t act sad, they aren’t suffering from depression. The truth is that most people suffering from depression do not show their sadness to the world. They may not show it to more than one or two people if any. This is why the suicides of Robin Williams and Kate Spade were so shocking to so many. They were people who appeared to have it all together; they were funny, bubbly, successful. We only learned after their deaths of the people who saw what they were hiding from the rest of the world.

Even when we know someone is battling depression, we may not know the extent of it or how it plays out in their life. The person posting on Instagram said that depression often looks like doing the next thing. You might want to insert the word “hard” to that description, but usually, the next thing isn’t something most would consider hard. For me, when I am in the throws of the battle and depression is wearing me down hard, the next thing might be as simple as getting in the shower. Or after a shower, the next thing might be putting on clothes for the day. Sometimes the next thing is putting a stamp on the envelope that needs mailing. It’s sitting on the counter and I have the stamp, I just can’t make myself do the thing. I might go to work all day and smile at my coworkers and be entirely productive but go home and not be able to do the dishes. It’s too much. I may be able to cook dinner for my kids and help them with homework but not be able to change out of my day clothes before falling into bed. It’s shaming for someone who can function so well in most areas of life to feel so paralyzed in other areas.

I realize this makes zero sense to you if you’ve never been on the front line with this demon. You might even be thinking, “No. This is when you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do what needs to be done.” Oh, how I wish it was that simple. Depression can be suffocating and it can be paralyzing, and it’s way past time for us to stop hiding from the conversation. There are people in this world with gifts and talents so big and so grand that we think they would want to show the whole world when, in actuality, they feel like they have shards of glass in their head. And while medication and therapy are both great tools, they are tools that take time. Neither one is an overnight fix or solution. Depression is a disease. No one would expect a cancer cure in a week. No one would ask a person with diabetes why they can’t just feel better or smile more. When someone has suffered a significant trauma or illness and the chemicals in their brain are out of balance, depression happens. Is it curable? For some people. Can it be managed if not cured? For some people. Is the same treatment plan good for everyone? No way.

For me, when I am suffering, I feel like a hedge of thorns has surrounded me. In almost the same way the thorns rose around Sleeping Beauty’s castle when she fell into her sleep, I feel them begin to grow and rise. Sometimes I catch them quickly, and they don’t cover me. How do I do that? I have to be on alert at all times. I have to watch what I eat, how much alcohol I’m consuming, the music I’m listening to, the sleep I’m getting or not getting. And then I have to reach out to someone to hold me accountable for repenting. I call my sponsor, my therapist, and a tiny handful of trusted friends, all people who will not judge me but help talk me through the steps of recovery. And I have to take my medication consistently. That means never missing a dose. When I catch it, I like to imagine myself wielding a sharp sword, swiping my way through the thorns.

When I don’t catch it, I wake up and feel the thorns covering me; smothering me. I may lay under them for days before calling for help. But when I do, my people swarm around me with swords of truth. They bring the Word of God swiftly and unapologetically to help me battle the lies of Satan; the lies he whispers in my ears when I’m trapped.

 

God loves us so much that He sent His one and only Son. He promises that whoever believes in Him will not perish (John 3:16). I believe. I believe that depression is genuine and I believe that I serve a God is so much greater. He is the King who comes in the end with the gleaming sword and saves the whole world. He’s the one who will slice away the thorns and take me home to live with Him where there will be no more tears, no more shame, and no more disease. I long for that day so much. But until we get there, I will keep beating this drum and putting my words out there in hopes of helping one person. I will keep typing and talking and shouting for people to take notice and get help.

State Your Brave

When I was a little girl my mom made exquisite cakes. She made wedding cakes for almost every young couple in our church, only charging for ingredients and supplies. She made birthday cakes that would make your eyes roll back in your head with their sweet creaminess and goodness.

Many of her cakes were fancy. I recall driving all over Southern Illinois from craft stores to hobby stores to flower shops in search of a particular fountain. It was to go between the bottom and middle layers of a wedding cake and would run colored water through with a delightful trickling sound. This, of course, was pre-Amazon, pre-internet, and pre-express shipping days, so we drove around in the hopes of finding a shop with the exact fountain.

She made Sweet 16 cakes and character cakes and really, just about any cake that the Wilton Cake Book pictured. She bought the yearly guide with the pages of new pans and new options and I would pour over the pages for hours on end, dreaming of the occasions in my life when she would make me these cakes.

The funny thing is, I don ‘t remember ever having a character cake, a unique cake, or one that stood out at all. I have a picture of me with a Bert and Ernie cake, but if I didn’t have that picture, I would not have any recollection at all. No, my cakes were always white cake, with fresh strawberry filling, and buttercream icing. Buttercream was her specialty and she made the most beautiful buttercream roses. Mine were usually pink. They were beautiful and delicious and I love them, but they weren’t a castle cake.

I feel like had I ever, even once, asked my mom for a castle cake, she would have made it. I saw her make castle cakes for other girls who had requested one from their mothers. So what was it in me that felt like I couldn’t ask?

I wish I had an answer. But whatever it was, it was the same exact thing that kept me from asking for an American Girl doll. American Girl dolls came out when I was a little bit older, almost too old for dolls. But a couple friends received one for Christmas and I wanted one so desperately. But I never asked. I asked for all sorts of dolls my whole life and received almost every one I ever asked for. So what made me believe that the request for an American Girl Doll was out of line?

I asked for other things. I made wish lists for my birthday. I wrote to Santa for Christmas. I even left notes for the Easter Bunny. What was it that kept me from asking for my true heart’s desire? It’s something I’ve been working through in the past few months in my recovery work and with my therapist. You see, I have recently discovered that I do the same with God. I will ask him for the things I’m supposed to ask for – health, safety for my family, protection from evil, salvation for those who need it, wisdom…

I came to the recent realization that I often hold back asking God for the extravagant. I mean, really, he already gave me eternal salvation and life through his one and only son. How dare I ask him for more? It’s fine to ask for things relating to health and wellness, to my family, and to ministry…but to ask for something just for me? No way. That would be selfish. And selfish, I have learned, is a trigger word for me.

I’m not sure yet where that word entered my fear based thinking. I have a couple ideas, a few tender memories that stir some discomfort. But I haven’t pinpointed the exact origin. I might not ever figure it out completely and that’s okay. Whatever the reason, I am now trying to get rid of that thinking.

God loves me. He thinks I’m amazing. He looks at me and sees a prized creation; one he made in his very own image! God delights in me and he wants to see me delighted. So if I pray for ANYTHING that is on my heart and in his will, he will delight in answering me. The part about being in his will is the key. God isn’t going to start acting like a Santa in the sky who drops toys in my lap on holidays. But he does want to give me the desires of my heart when it matches his will.

There have been a handful of prayers I’ve been too timid to pray. Prayers that seemed frivolous and silly. Prayers that felt too self-serving, even if in the long term they would benefit many others. But this summer I read two books that changed my perspective on how to pray. I read “Girl, Wash Your Face” by Rachel Hollis and “Eat Cake. Be Brave” by Melissa Radke. I also re-read “Of Mess and Moxie” by Jen Hatmaker.

Please do not read any of these books and take every word to heart as Gospel or the theology that you should follow. I didn’t and I don’t. I don’t agree 100% with every word that each woman says. But that’s okay because we’re all a little different. (This is my disclaimer in case anyone wants to jump on me for anything. Don’t. I have no time or energy to argue with anyone about a book.) But what I did take from all of these books was a reminder that God sees so much more of me than bad choices I’ve made in the past. He doesn’t look at me and see the mistakes and mess ups. No, God looks at me and sees himself. He sees his one and only son who washed me in the forgiveness of his blood. He sees all the gifts and talents and abilities he has given me to reach out to the world in his name. So if I need to ask for help in managing those talents, if I need a boost in my abilities, or if I want to hone in on the craft of the gift he has placed in me, all I have to do is speak up! I am not selfish to ask for his guidance in this way. He delights in seeing me grow.  He has given me what he’s given me so that I might use it. If I need help with the instruction manual, he’s right there with me!

So, taking a bit of encouragement from all three authors above, and using the statement of boldness that Melissa claimed (I call her Melissa because I follow her in all the places and listened to her audiobook every morning last week while applying my makeup. It’s like we are already best friends), I am here to #statemybrave.

I am going to be brave this year. When I turned 39, I proclaimed I would be the best version of myself when I turned 40. I made a few improvements, but my best self? I don’t feel I made it. I broke a lot of promises to myself that year. So 40 came and went and then 41 arrived and I started spiraling. Who am I even? Who have I become and what am I supposed to do? I have all these dreams, desires in my heart that I’ve been too afraid to ask for help with. I have so many things I am fully capable of doing but I haven’t believed I was worthy of taking the first step.

No. Freaking. More. No more hiding. No more broken promises to myself. No more believing that I have to come last.

I’m going to be brave. I’m going to chase my dreams and follow my heart, as it leads me closer to God’s will. I am going to put myself out there and not shy away. I am strong because the God of the universe lives in me. Without him, I would be nothing. With him, I am a warrior.

I have enrolled in college. I’m starting over. I went to school for cosmetology right out of high school in 1995. I got my license and worked while I continued on, studying business. When my dad left and my mom committed suicide, I quit. I was only two months away from an Associates Degree. I have shamed myself for years over quitting. No more. I did what I did with the circumstances in my life. I was doing the best I could at the time. Now I’m doing the best I can with the way my life looks today. I’m choosing to be brave.

All my classes will be online with Concordia Portland and I can only take one or two classes at a time. One, I’m still a full-time church worker, full-time wife, and full-time mother. That makes room only for a part-time student. And two, college is expensive.  I’m receiving a little bit of assistance from my church body and I’m figuring the rest out. Some might say (and many have), “Is it wise to put money towards your own education at this stage in your life? Especially when you are on the cusp of having two teenage drivers who will need to pay for college in a few short years?”

Yes. Yes, it is wise. I want my son and daughter to see that it’s okay to believe in yourself. It’s perfectly normal to chase dreams God has placed in your heart. I want them to know that an education is valuable at any and every stage in life – no matter what you study! I want them to see that it’s never too late to make right a decision you regret and that there is no timetable for growth. I also want them to understand that God never leaves us. He never stops working in us. And he always calls us to be brave when the glory shines on him.

So, this is my brave. I’m accepting donations to fund my education. Just kidding. Actually, I’m not kidding. I would accept it. But I’ll figure it out regardless. And I’m also accepting meals. And math tutoring. I told my advisor that what I believed in high school was true and not once have I needed a quadratic equation in my adult life. I really think it’s silly that I need to take one more stinking math class. He laughed. He actually laughs a lot at me; in a good way. But whatever, sometimes being brave means doing things that are hard. Math is hard for me. So is balancing life. So I’ll also be accepting your prayers. Being brave is also scary. But what I’m learning is that having courage doesn’t mean you don’t get scared, it means moving forward when things are especially scary or don’t seem to make sense. I am worthy of this though. God placed all the stuff in me for a reason and I am worthy of asking for his help in making it come to fruition.

And for my 42nd birthday, I’m asking for a castle cake.

He Paints Beauty

Next month marks twenty years since the hubs and I embarked on a crazy adventure of leaving my hometown. Only he wasn’t my husband back then; we were engaged. And it wasn’t his hometown. He had lived all over the country; well, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Illinois. He’d never stayed in one place for more than a couple years and I had lived in my little universe for my whole life. My parents and I moved there when I was 9 months old and it was all I knew.

Suddenly, I found myself to be 21, my family had dissolved, the contract on my job was ending, and we decided to set out for a new life together. My whole world felt tumped upsidedown. I was scared, I was nervous, I was unsure of what was going to meet me down the road but I knew – we knew – that if I was going to live, we had to make a change. I was drowning in grief and didn’t know how to take a breath. I rarely recommend running from your problems and I don’t believe that’s what I was doing. Although some might disagree, for me, I needed a change of scenery.

Everywhere I looked there I saw darkness. Everything I saw was a reminder of the loss in my life. I was grieving my mom’s suicide. I was grieving my parents split. I was mourning the loss of what I had believed to be true and discovered was a lie. I was at a complete loss of the dreams I had built, the plans I had made, and what I thought my career would look like. My future didn’t look bright. It looked foggy and scary.

I used to hate when people would tell me that God had bigger plans; that he could make beauty from ashes. I was sitting in ashes. No, I was buried in ashes. I couldn’t see the sun for the ash cloud that was hanging over me. So we moved far away from where anyone knew me and I started fresh. I began the journey of allowing God to wash away my ash. I started the steps toward healing.

Twenty years allows a lot of perspectives. I can look down the path we started on when we left that town with a box truck and a car crammed with belongings. I can see all the side roads, the bunny trails, the hills, and the valleys we have walked through together. I can see how, even when we felt scared and alone, God never left our side. I can see the people God brought into my life to teach me and I can see the people he allowed me to keep, from my past, because he knew they would later be a great comfort for me.

I’ve traveled back to my hometown only a handful of times since that big departure twenty years ago. Each visit has brought more comfort, more healing. Last week we went up, stayed with friends, and watched the sunset every single night. We laughed and talked and laughed some more. We talked about heartaches both old and new. And God allowed my heart to break over the beauty of the sunsets that were there all along. When I was covered in ashes of grief I was unable to see the sun, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. He opened my eyes to his faithfulness and goodness.

My daughter walked past the treeline every evening and took a billion pictures of the sunset. She loved the way the light changed and how the clouds reflected colors that crayons and markers could never create. She took the picture below and it’s my absolute favorite. It looks like God opened his paint box and swept magnificence across the sky.

God really has painted beauty in my life. He has brought so much healing, and while I may always have scars, I know that he has never left me. And I know he’s not finished with the masterpiece he’s creating. And honestly, I am so excited to see the colors he paints in me on the road ahead.

 

 

But Who Will Prepare the Sandwiches?!?!

Expectations are funny things. If your expectations of someone or something are too high, you are likely to be let down. If you set your expectations too low you may never hold anyone around you accountable to greater things.

So it’s a tightrope walk.

My tendency is to set my expectations way too high. Way. Too. High. I know better. I’ve learned the danger in this the hard way.  My therapist has declared it to be the downfall of many of my relationships and goals in life. And yet I continue to toss expectations up to the rafters and hope for the best.

I especially do this with holidays. And birthdays. And special occasions. I want everything to be magical and sparkly and joyous and memorable; oh, do I ever want to make the memories! I make lists and plans and plot and organize and pile things up and stress myself to the max. Which frankly, is the exact opposite of my entire belief system. Or, at least what I claim to be my belief system. I want to be chill. I want things to be simplified. I want the soft days with the relaxed people. This truly is my heart song. But what I end up with is, most of the time, whack-a-do.

This year I was able to keep my Easter plans relaxed. Since most of the members of our life group are either paid church workers or highly committed volunteers, we all worked together to put a very easy meal on the table. Or the island. We tend to do buffet style anymore. See? Chill. One person brought a ham, one brought veggies and a roast, one brought two lamb cakes…because why just one? We are chill; not lazy. It all worked out beautifully and we drank wine and laughed and danced. The dancing came later in the day and might have mostly been me but whatever.

My expectations of this day were exactly what I knew it would be and exactly what it turned out to be – a great day with friends.

However, my girl is being confirmed this coming Sunday and my body is aching today with the expectations. I have a thousand plans in my head, I’ve already put too much on the schedule, I have shopping and cooking, and phone calls and a bounce house….scratch that. The bounce house would be too much. Look at me dialing back as I type. I even scheduled a visit with my therapist for the middle of all the fun because my expectation is that I will need someone to reel me in.

I want it all to be wonderful and magical and holy and beautiful and memorable for her and for me and for everyone involved. If I’m honest, I want people to say, “Look how effortlessly Tam can throw together a weekend of wonderful!” When in reality, it’s not thrown together at all but orchestrated to the smallest detail.

I know, I know. I need to stop and take a breath. That’s what I would tell you if you were rambling this crazy to me. I would say, “Friend, sit down and shut your eyes and feel your breath. Inhale peace from the Holy Spirit and exhale all your anxiety.” And then I’d pour you a drink. Just kidding. Sort of.

This is where the Mary and Martha of my soul go into hand to hand combat. The Mary knows that Shelby’s confirmation is about professing her faith in Jesus and all I need to do is praise God for the work he has done in her heart. The Martha says, “But where will the sandwiches come from if you don’t prepare them?!?!?!”

The Mary tells me to breathe and pray and rest, knowing that Shelby is loved by all the people, but most importantly by her Lord, and the sandwiches and tea and cakes don’t really matter. The Martha says, “But the people will be hungry and the bread needs to be fresh!!!!”

The Mary says to chillax and not worry about impending forecasts for rain. Having people together to celebrate God’s goodness will happen rain or shine. Martha is screaming, “You should plan some indoor activities just in case!!!”

Martha uses a lot of exclamation points.

I wonder about the expectations of the first Easter morning; the one before anyone knew it was Easter. When the women went to the tomb, fully expecting to dress Jesus’ body for burial, they had their expectations set for mourning. They knew the process, they had the supplies, and they all had assigned jobs. The shock of the empty tomb, if you notice in the bible, was not immediate joy. Even though they’d heard the promises and knew what Jesus had said would happen, that reality didn’t make sense to them because it’s not where their expectations lived. There was confusion, maybe a little bit of anger, and sadness.

Where is the body?!?!?!? It’s supposed to be here!!!!

I wonder if when the men came to check things out and then ran away, did the women yell, “Fine! Y’all go ahead and run home! We will stay here and solve this mystery! Because we are women and we handle all the things!!!”

Again, I feel like there were lots of exclamation points.

Meeting Jesus face to face is what it took for the ladies to settle into the truth of the moment. Hearing his voice is what turned the expectations from funeral to celebration. The plans they had made had to be changed in an instant. Did they drop the oils and herbs and dance with joy? I like to think so.

So maybe all I need is to sit down and listen for his voice. If I could put my expectations aside and simply ask him to show me how he’s moving through the weekend, I might be able to drop my anxieties, my plans of what should be, and dance in the joy of his presence.

 

 

 

The Children Are Watching

 

Friends, I think it’s time we sit down and have a chat. Maybe pour yourself a cup of coffee because I’d like this to be civil; maybe even light-hearted. The reality is we are long over due to say some things that need to be said.

There is a problem in our nation. We are not safe. WAIT! Before you turn away – this is not about guns. This is not about Democrats or Republicans or #metoo. This is about you and me and the generation of children watching us.

We have become an angry, rude bunch of people. We say things online we would never say to someone’s face. We scream and yell at our televisions and we watch “news” programs where people scream and yell.

The children are watching. They’re learning.

They are watching us shake our fists and scream profanity when we don’t agree with each other.

They are watching when we honk our horns at people in the car line at school.

They see us when we speed around the car stopped to let a child cross at a cross walk.

They hear the slander we utter under our breath about the family ahead of us in the grocery store check out.

They are listening when we gossip on our phones about the teen that got in trouble last weekend.

Our kids are paying attention and they are learning. That’s what kids do, you know. We like to joke and say, “Do as I say and not as I do” but it’s not a joke anymore. Our kids have learned from our behaviors and they are acting them out.

They act them out in the cafeteria when the boy ahead of them fumbles to pay for his lunch, dropping his quarters on the floor. They act them out in class when the girl next to them smells bad because there’s not a mom at home to teach her proper hygiene. They show what they’ve learned when they don’t go and sit by the lonely. They mimic our actions on the soccer field, the baseball diamond, the football field, the dance floor, the band room….everywhere they go.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you said something and thought, “Oh my word, I sound like my mother/father!”?

Our kids don’t even realize how much they sound like us. They are not old enough or mature enough to put it together yet but they do; they sound just like us.

So when we question how our nation has come to a place where kids could bully and ridicule and mock and kill, we need to take a long hard look in the mirror. If we want to be a community of kindness and love it has to start from within. We can’t say “those people” anymore. We have to say, “I will be the change.”

Listen, I get it. Some mornings are rough. Nothing goes according to plan, you are running late for work, you have bills piled up at home, and have no idea what you’re going to fix for dinner tonight. The stress of getting the kids to school with a mind load like that is immense. But honking at kids getting out of cars, speeding around vehicles letting teachers cross from the parking lot to the school sidewalk, flipping off parents you think aren’t going fast enough…it’s not okay.

I know know the cost of the private lessons and the time committed to make sure your kid is the best on the team. I know what’s involved in making sure they will stand out to college recruiters and coaches and directors. Yelling at the kid who isn’t “up to par” is not okay. Making fun of the ones who don’t run as fast, often fall down, play the wrong notes, miss the last step…it’s just mean.

I understand we are rushed in the grocery store. We have lists a mile long and we have to get dinner on the table and our kids to all their practices and lessons in the next two hours. But pretending you don’t know the mom you were home room mom with for three years is rude. It takes two seconds to smile and say hello. Being harsh with the checker because he’s not scanning fast enough isn’t acceptable.  Kindness takes very little time and it costs you nothing.

And the children are watching.

This is not written to shame and point fingers out at my community without pointing a finger back at myself. I have been guilty of heavy sighs and muttered comments. I have said snarky things about others in front of my kids. I’ve driven too fast in school zones and been inpatient in car line. This is not a you and yours problem – it’s an us problem.

Let’s start today with a deep breathe and a prayer. Let’s ask God to remind us of the grace and mercy he shows us every single day so that we might show grace and mercy to others. Let’s build each other up with kindness and smiles and gentle affirmations.

The children are watching.