Stretched

pic for Stretched

It was while I was in puppy pose a thought hit me.

These last years of my life have been filled with days and months of stretching.

Stretching what, you wonder?

Well, unlike the puppy pose, which any yoga amateur (like me) would appreciate. The kind of stretching the Lord is doing in my life has nothing to do with getting on my knees with my arms stretched in front of me while the instructor reminds me how good it is for my shoulders.

This stretching involves coping and/or handling events, people, basically life that is completely out of my control.

I think as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, He begins to get a little pickier with us.  What I mean is, He expects more out of us just like we expect more out of our children as they grow older.

This year although full of wonderful things, has been a tough one.

This month, in just about two weeks, it will have been four years since my mom died.   October, although FULL of festivities and fun, is always a little hard on me.

As I’ve walked the long, painful road of grief, I’ve noticed a theme.  The lessons I’ve learned from my pain the Lord gently requires me to practice.   As he teaches me, he expects more from me.

Sometimes, I want to run from these expectations.

I don’t want to do the MATURE thing.

And, sometimes, I actually DO run from these expectations and I don’t choose maturity.  And every time I don’t choose maturity, I regret it.  You know, being an adult is not at all what I thought it would be back in my childhood years when the thought of making all of my own decisions sounded so romantic!

What I wouldn’t give to feel the freedom of childhood.

Stretching…right, I need to stay on topic!

At the first of the year my husband got a promotion.  It all sounded wonderful on paper, but the reality was more hours away from home and less time together.  Since my children are grown, I don’t have school and multiple schedules to juggle.  There’s nothing to distract me so I notice every lonely hour he’s away.

But, the right thing to do was to be thankful for the opportunity, but thankful was only part of what I felt.  I wrestled with happiness, expectation, fear and uncertainty.  I was a giant ball of mixed emotion.   Every time I started to complain, I could feel an impression in my heart to stop and be grateful.  So many nights when I sat on the couch by myself, the last thing I wanted was to thank the Lord.

Stretched.

Just a few weeks ago I watched dear friends bury their twenty four year old only son.

It felt like a punch in the gut.

That level of loss I can’t comprehend.

I watched an entire community come together and weep with the family, pray with them and wrap them in love.   I still can’t understand why it happened.  I try to wrap my mind around it, and I simply can’t.  I have no desire to hear the shallow answer that “God must’ve needed another angel.”  Are you kidding me?  This family wants their son, and heaven didn’t need another angel.  There is no easy answer and I want to rail out against the senselessness of it all.

Again, I am stretched.  Stretched so thin.

My daughter commutes two days a week to a school over eighty miles one way…rain, sleet, snow or shine.    So many days I stop and pray for her.  There is always a real possibility of the unthinkable happening.

I feel stretched.

My husband flies airplanes for a living.  Do I even need to tell you the stress that goes along with having someone you love with all of your heart hanging in the air by two engines, a wing and a prayer?!

My son has a girlfriend and suddenly I am no longer the only woman in his life.  I knew this day would come, I knew he would find someone he really cared about and I would have to step back and allow the budding relationship to grow.  But, I’ve never been in these waters before, and even though I am so happy for him, I find myself jealous and unsure of where I fit into his life.

This year I have faced some serious rejection.  I wrote about it a few months back and so many of you responded to my pain.  It’s amazing how many of us can relate to rejection, it’s a true test of character as I’m challenged to take the high road when I would rather defend my cause.

Rejection is the worst.

And, again, I am stretched.

I think that could be the resonating theme for me this year.

Being stretched thin.

Figuratively speaking, that is.  All this stretching certainly hasn’t made me “thin.” Ever heard of stress eating?!

I’ve learned by attending my yoga class that stretching is so important.  It keeps us strong and flexible and strengthens our muscles to hold us together.  This strength keeps us from injury, builds our immune system, helps with hormones (hallelujah!), helps with balance, sharpens our memory, improves sleep quality and gives you more energy.

You know, there are so many similarities in physical stretching and spiritual stretching.

When I follow the impression laid on my heart to do the right thing in spite of how I feel, it’s hard and it doesn’t feel good.  Just like yoga, when I’m in upward facing dog and want to cry (literally), I remind myself of the benefits and I congratulate myself when I’m done for holding the awkward pose and not giving up.

The benefits outweigh the difficulties.

Spiritually speaking, it’s the same.  If I’ll follow through and stay in that awkward pose of uncertainty or stay there and allow God to fight my battles, when it’s over I feel the Lord congratulate me for holding on and being obedient….upward facing dog, spiritually speaking.

I’ve learned we don’t get to pick our battles, sometimes they pick us.  BUT we do get to decide how we handle them.  Do we listen to the small impression the Lord puts on our heart or not?

Upward facing dog or not?

For me, I’m heading to yoga.

 

Romans 12:1-2 MSG  “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

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Living Life One Hundred Percent

Living Life One Hundred Percent pic

Last time I wrote, I wrote to those who know someone who’s suffered deep, personal loss. I asked you to be patient with us and allow us plenty of time to recover. Coming back from deep grief is a LONG, painful road.   Recovery takes lots of time, but we eventually find healing and learn to walk in our new normal.

In this writing I would like to talk to those of us who have personally suffered loss.

It’s a club we never wanted to join, yet, here we are.  

Many of us have travelled down this grief road for a while and have learned to cope.  We have a few years of “loss experience” under our belt and we don’t cry every single day like we did at first. 

We walk with an emotional “limp,” but WE ARE WALKING.

It’s taken me a while to come to this place in my healing; how about you?  I’ve worked hard to be exactly where I am, as a matter of fact I am about to start a class on coping with grief.  I look forward to finding out if I’ve processed my pain in a healthy way.  Sounds strange to use the word healthy in the same sentence with pain, but I believe it is possible.

I believe it’s possible to walk through soul-searing pain and learn more than you ever thought you could.  

But, that’s the catch.

Who wants to wish pain into their lives to learn?  I don’t see any raised hands.  Me either.

Since we are inevitably going to suffer on some level or another throughout life, I want to find some silver lining to what I’ve been through.  What can I glean from my personal tragedy, what have I learned?

Well…

I’ve learned I’m stronger than I ever thought I was.

A friend told me recently, she’s averages 100% in living through hard days.  She’s made it through every one and is still here to talk about it.  If you’d told me I was going to live the rest of my days without my mom, I would’ve told you I might die without her.  But, you know what?   I didn’t die.  I’m 100% on living hard days without her so far.  I get up, face each day as it comes, it’s not always pretty, but when I lay my head on the pillow at night, I remind myself I’m still here and still LIVING. 

 

Since death wreaked havoc in my life,

I’ve found I can handle hard times with more courage.

What does that mean?  Well, when a day goes awry I remind myself “I’ve been through MUCH HARDER TIMES than this.”  When I feel left out, or overwhelmed or frustrated, I remember I’ve LIVED THROUGH WORSE. 

And I’m still here.

I don’t want the strength the good Lord has grown within me to be wasted.  Even if the only meaning I can find in my loss is to use it for coping with the days ahead, I’ll take it.  There has to be more to what I’ve been through than to get past it, more than just getting over it.  I want it to count for something.  And when times do get really hard, I remind myself…

A bad day can’t come close to where I’ve been. 

I’m going to make it.   

 

I have a better perspective on life.

When you’ve looked death in the face, it changes how you view everything around you.  Not right away, but eventually, you begin to be THANKFUL for any and everything in your life.  Even the most average of days can be a festival of thanksgiving when you realize all you have.   A simple walk around the park can feel freeing and beautiful.  Sitting in Sunday morning church feels sacred. It’s like my senses are heightened and I’m keenly aware of the good things around me. 

Even though I have to leave my youngest child in a different town so he can get an education, I am thankful to be here to cry about it.  Yes, I am thankful through tears.  That’s a bonus I’ve discovered since mom’s death, tears come easily and I don’t take them for granted.

Be patient with yourself, it takes a while to start feeling thankful, but if you do the work it takes to find healing, thankfulness will come.

 

I LOVE to make memories!

I’ve learned any event can be made into a memory and that is so important.  Lately I’ve been remembering a lot about my mom.  I can even remember events without crying.  I thank the Lord often for the gift of remembering, it has been a life saver.  So, I try to have as many “outings” as I can with my college age kids.  Even if it’s just a simple trip to meet at Cracker Barrel.   I plan and save for vacations where I know we’ll laugh and play together.  Anything we do, I try to keep in mind our lives are flying by and I want to have lots of events to look back on and smile. 

 

I am a picture fanatic!

Don’t get too close to me or I’m liable to snap your picture.  I don’t believe you can have enough pics of the ones you love.  Mom hated being photographed so I don’t have nearly as many pictures of her as I would like. I am so sad about that.  My poor kids have been photographed half to death.  But, they know not to give me a hard time, so they stand for the thousandth time and smile for the camera.  You know what?  I’ve created a chronicling of their lives and I hope one day they’ll thank me for it.  I try my best to be willing to have my picture taken on my best and worst days because, one day, I know they’ll be able to look back and smile as one memory after another is laid before them in digital color. 

 

Grief has been a defining point in my life, but I do not want to be defined by my grief.  I don’t want to park there and never become the person God intended.  I want my grief to mean something, to be worth something, and to be used to wield good all around me.  I want to offer hope and compassion to those who don’t think they’ll live through another day because of the pain.

All of this hurt can’t be for nothing. 

If I could choose, I would take my mom back in a Mississippi minute and trade all of these lessons without thinking twice.  But, since that option is not on the table, I like to think she’d be proud of me for taking something REALLY hard and finding the good in it.

I think she’d give me a 100%.

Tending to Grief

Tending to Grief pic

Soon it will be four years since my mom went to heaven. 

Honestly, that doesn’t seem possible. 

You know, I still have her number saved in my phone, it’s still listed with the speed dial numbers.  Every once and a while I am tempted to tap the screen just to see if someone answers on the other end.  I can’t imagine what I’d say.  “Umm…you can’t have this number, it belonged to my Mom and she’s gone and no one else is allowed to ever use this number again, K? Thanks, bye.” 

I can hear myself stammering through something like that in my mind.

It’s best if I don’t know.

Just thinking about that scenario forces me to admit what I’ve known from the start, life goes on.  The sun rises and sets, the earth spins on its axis, roosters still crow at sunrise, cities still bustle with life and commotion, harvest comes and brings with it boiled peanuts and bon fires, school gets out and offers families a time to get away and play only to start again a few short weeks later. 

Life just goes on.

Young couples get married, they buy a house, have children, work hard and eventually retire and then one of them leaves…and they don’t come back. 

It’s the order of things.

Pretty sure I don’t like the order of things.

I think if I’ve done one thing correctly in recovering from all of this pain brought on by deep incomparable loss, it would be that I shared my feelings all along the way.  So many of you have shared my pain, helped me bear the load…you have been my solid ground in a season when I thought I might literally be washed away in sorrow.

You came along side and loved me, I will be grateful ‘til death do us part.

I caught myself recently feeling embarrassed talking about how sad I am that I lost my mom.  My self-talk scolded me for bringing it up because surely others are tired of hearing about what I’ve been through.

“Get over it already, girl, nobody wants to hear how you lost your mom almost four years ago.  It’s been long enough, you should be past all of this.  MOVE ON.”

I understood enough about this unhealthy dialog with myself to realize it wasn’t true. 

Please tell me it’s not true.

Folks are so polite to me when I mention her name, they seem to be genuinely listening when I tell them I’m so lost without her for the umpteenth time.  Surely it’s not all an act.  People really do understand you never really “get over it,” right?!! 

Grief never really ends. 

Yes, you manage it, you cope with it, you hide it, you deny it, you rage at it, you come to terms with it, but you never really get over it.  It lives on every time you open your phone and see your speed dial list. 

I can’t bear to see her name, can’t bear to remove it. 

Can’t bear to go on living, can’t bear not to. 

Can’t bear to see anything that reminds me of her, can’t bear not to have reminders of her for fear I’ll forget. 

There’s no way to escape the grief.

And just when you think you might…

It lives on when your niece and nephew graduate college and Grandma isn’t there. 

It lives on when grandchildren get married.

When parents remarry. 

It lives on at Christmas and Thanksgiving and birthdays and wedding anniversaries, when her favorite pew sits empty week after week and especially when we sing her favorite hymns in our little country church. 

It lives on.

I wondered what life would look like after she’d been gone a while.  I figured I would either be living okay without her or dead from the pain.  I realize now that both of those scenarios came true.  I am living and doing well, but death is never far from my mind.  Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t sit around and obsess death and dying, but I am keenly aware IT CAN COME KNOCKING ANY TIME. 

Tomorrow may not come.

Sorry if all of this sounds morbid. 

There I go again apologizing for my grief, pain has changed me. 

I wonder sometimes if we don’t take enough time to “tend to our grief.” 

Momma used to always keep house plants.  She used to tell me she had to “tend to” them so they wouldn’t die. 

I have tried over the years to follow her example.  Sadly, I have a brown thumb.  I remember she used to water her greenery faithfully, and occasionally she would go through and cut off all the dead leaves and stems.  When she was done the plant might look a little thinner, less robust, but it always looked healthier.  Without fail, it would sprout new leaves, and fresh new stems would grow up from the soil. 

Cutting off the dead allowed the plant new room to grow.

I wonder, if plants could talk, if they would want to be left alone; does it hurt to have dead leaves stripped away?  Staying the same would be so much more comfortable.  But, after the pruning process, when new life springs forth, I bet the plant would thank its faithful owner for the pain so it could be more beautiful than it ever dreamed.

This beauty didn’t happen on its own, it took “tending to.”

That’s how I feel about my grief.  Without my consent the Lord began to strip off the dead places in my soul.  I didn’t’ want it at first, and I let Him know it.  But, as I began to see the results of my pruning, I began to help Him with the process, offering my sorrow and sadness up constantly so he could pull it away and allow room for healthy life. 

I am now at a place where I can see new growth and life in my heart, but it still takes great care to keep it up.

Just like my momma’s plants, I have to take the time to water my spirit.  I do that by reading God’s word and reminding myself where she is, and that I will see her again someday.  Sometimes I take long walks and talk to her by breathing sentences into the wind.  Somehow, getting those words out of my heart and into the world helps me.

I have to prune the dead places inside of me.   The deadness being the numbing your soul feels as you try to cope with and comprehend what has happened.  To help with this, I try to remember her laughing and loving and LIVING her life to the very fullest.  Sometimes I will look at old pictures, other times I will sit and try to imagine her well and whole and happy. 

I KNOW she would want me to be happy. 

I’ve learned getting through grief, or tending to it, takes a lot of work.  But, it is worth the effort.  It takes time, lots and lots of time.  I guess that’s where I started from today, being patient with the process.  Being willing to listen to a suffering soul tell yet another story of how much they miss sew and sew is valuable beyond your greatest imaginations.  Please don’t get tired of listening, don’t get annoyed with how long it takes for a person to cope with their personal loss. 

In time, maybe a long time, you’ll start to notice some new growth in them, new green life sprouting up. 

And in a few years, or however long it takes, you’ll notice they look robust and healthy.

Just like momma’s plants.

The Sting of Rejection

Recently I walked through our local Wal-Mart and felt the sting of undeniable rejection from someone who used to be a friend.  It was painful.  Kind of like an ant bite to your soul, it burns, then leaves a whelp and keeps you up itching throughout the night.  Momma used to recommend ammonia to take the sting out of a bite, too bad there’s no ammonia for the soul.

My normal response to this type of Wal Mart encounter was to walk my mind down a familiar road into self-loathing and eventually end up drowning my sorrows in a bag of Reece’s Pieces. I would start by convincing myself I wasn’t worth friending and finish by reliving every stupid thing I’d ever done in living color.  Then I would agree with any problem they found in me, and, trust me, there are plenty to find, and offer to stand alongside them (hypothetically speaking) and throw stones at my self-esteem.

Then I would spend the next few hours lamenting and wishing I was a better person.

That used to be such an easy trap for my mind, I believed every lie the enemy threw at me.  Lies I often did not recognize as false because they camouflaged themselves as a dirty look or negative word spoken at a vulnerable moment.  Or by being ignored when you desperately want to be heard or finding out you’ve been talked about unfavorably by someone you trusted.  Or maybe it’s not being invited to an event or wishing you felt more like a part of the group.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

Rejection is the worst.

But, this Wal-Mart day was different.

This day, unlike so many others, I actually recognized the lie and called it out for what it was.  And then with a prayer on my lips, I walked right onto the health and beauty aisle to pick up my mascara.  There was still a sting, but, only slight. The whole idea of someone not liking me or being misunderstood used to tear me up on a thousand levels.  But, because the Lord is growing me up in this area, I’m slowly finding the freedom I need to be myself; even when “myself” is not popular.

This newly found freedom from the heavy yoke of popular opinion did not happened overnight; as a matter of fact, it has taken my whole life to learn this lesson.

Here in the up and down days of my mid-life crisis, I’m discovering self-assurance.  This assurance is rooted in finding peace with who I am, and watered by forty something years of experience that’s taught me there’s no such thing as perfect.

I’ve learned to appreciate who God made me to be, as my daddy would say, “flaws and all.”

It’s taken a very painful season to shove me into a place of dealing with my response to rejection.  It’s painful enough when it happens, why spend time thinking about it?  Just shove it down deep and move on, that was my philosophy.  I wish I was one of those people who loved looking deep within my psyche to find why I behave the way I do.  I guess if I was one of those “deeper souls” it wouldn’t have taken my entire life to understand how much I needed to change.

Not to change so I might “fit in,” rather to learn how to reject rejection.

I am a little different than most.  Some call it unique, others don’t call.  (I know, totally cheesy, but I couldn’t resist!)

I remember a few years ago wanting so badly to be a part of a ladies group that met frequently in our small town.  This is an invite only type of deal and I was told my name had been mentioned as a potential member only to find out later, I didn’t make the cut.

Ah, the sharp sting of rejection.

I was so sad and hurt.

I remember my husband being so sweet to me.  You know the person who tells you, “You don’t need such-and-such anyway.  It’s their loss.”  Well, he’s that guy.  He listened to me talk about how I was such a reject and how pathetic I was until I feel sure he wanted to run.  But, thankfully, he prayed for me instead.

Why is it, the “friend” grass always looks greener on the other side?

Why does it look like everybody has the best life and the best relationships except you?

I look back now and I realize I was trying hard to belong to a group I was never meant to be in.   If I had been accepted “in” I may never have dealt with what it felt like to be “out.”   And “out” is where the rejection lived.   “Out” is where I needed to be so I could start getting better.  And by better I mean finding wholeness—being well.

Liking myself.

Recently I read a devotional I haven’t been able to shake.  It talked about turning opposition into opportunity.  Honestly, this whole idea does not appeal to me.  I want to live opposition free, I don’t like hard things and I don’t like dealing with difficulty.  But, I do long to be healthy way down deep, so I read and re-read the devotion.

It is so easy for me to read something powerful like this and vow to change, to try and view difficulty as a chance to grow and learn.  I declare I am a willing vessel for God to use in the life of another, even if it means getting hurt in the process.  But, then I stand there in real life walking through Wal-Mart being ignored, feeling small and unloved, and I am tempted to duck into the pharmacy section to hide.

The fiction of my vowed devotion fades quickly in the face of reality.

Okay, so in keeping with my desire to be fully transparent…I don’t want this kind of opportunity, you know?  I want to be included, noticed, loved, accepted, appreciated and affirmed without any strings of hardship attached.

I want easy.

God wants what’s best.

And there’s the rub.

Since we live in a world of insecurities and competition we will never be able to escape the pain of rejection. And since God’s best involves facing the pain head on and not hiding in the pharmacy section, I find myself with “opportunities” that push me into maturity.

I wish I could just buy maturity in a tube right by the toothpaste, it would be so much easier.

Again, I want easy and God wants…you get it.

So, on this particular day, after I picked up my mascara, I spun my cart around headed for the grocery section.  Well, I sort of spun my cart, it had a damaged front wheel so it was more of a desperate dragging, not nearly as savvy sounding as a good spin.   But,  that didn’t stop me.  As I headed back to frozen foods, I continued to pray, think of God’s Word and remind myself I was loved, and you know what?

It worked.

No, it did not take the sting of rejection away immediately, but it did keep it from leaving a whelp.  I guess you could say, I took my momma’s advice.

I put “ammonia” (the medicine of God’s word and prayer) on the bite of rejection and the sting wore off.

And, amazingly, it didn’t itch later.

 

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him…”

1 Peter 2:4

Back Porch Revival (conclusion)

Back Porch Revival pic

Often I go out onto my back porch to have devotions or to pray.  There’s nothing special about it really.  It’s screened in, but we have to leave the sliding door open so the dogs can get out to the yard when needed.  Flying insects that find themselves trapped in my screened in haven from time to time and for some reason love to fly in my face.  My view isn’t especially great as there is a house right behind us, so I’m not out there to soak in a majestic view of all God’s created.

But, you know what, that small place, like my park trail, has become holy on more than one occasion.

On this particular morning, a few days after hearing the podcast with life changing words about receiving, I was kneeling in the center in my screened in space, right under the ceiling working hard to provide a breeze.  I was staring out into the backyard just as the morning dew was lifting.  A cardinal had taken up a home in a nearby tree, she landed on the fence and stared at me as though she wanted to speak.  I stared back at her; she was as radiant and red as fire, perched proudly and she began to sing.

I bowed my head low and began to pray again for peace, sweet peace.

It was in this very sacred moment, in my black fuzzy robe on a not so fancy back porch the Lord spoke so clearly to my heart.  “Peace has always been there, Sandi, you just have to receive it.”  “Receive it, Lord?” I whispered for me and the cardinal to hear.  “Yes, just receive.”

“What exactly does that mean?” I thought.

My mind was quickly taken back to a time when I was kneeling at an altar with a friend and she, even back then, was praying for peace of mind and soul.  As she was praying she spoke to me, “I can feel the peace of the Lord like RAIN in my soul, can you feel it friend?”  Weeping, I said, “no.”

Reliving that moment reminded me the Lord had been trying to give me this gift of peace for so long but I didn’t know how to receive it.  Just like the podcast speaker, I was too afraid and I didn’t believe.   More out of desperation than anything noble, I cried out to the Lord for help.

It was at my back porch revival I spoke the words that bubbled up from my heart, “I receive, Lord, I receive your peace.”  There were no bells or whistles, no big fanfare, just a strong sense I had been heard and a solid feeling everything was going to be okay.

Peace.

It’s funny because nothing about my life changed in that moment, but everything about HOW I LOOKED at my life changed.

I’ll never forget it.

I’m marking it here on this page, like a chronicling of the beginning of a deeper place.

In the days since this experience, I’ve learned peace is not something that comes to stay; it is something to receive each day.   It’s been a challenge to keep peace as the enemy loves to stalk us with fear and uncertainties.  He wields unbelief like a sword slicing away our resolve.  But day after day I continue to ask the Lord for peace and then I remind myself to receive it.

Receiving is an invitation to fill my mind.  I looked up the word in the dictionary and one of the definitions kind of surprised me.

  • RECEIVE- to act as a receptacle or container for –ex. the cistern receives water (RAIN) from the roof.

I want to be that empty cistern; the empty container that receives peace my Father wants to RAIN down from heaven.

I nearly jumped for joy and cried all at once a couple of days later as I walked my familiar trail and the next topic in the podcast series was “Receiving.”

It was just the confirmation I needed to look toward heaven and pray for “RAIN.”