March 15, 2017

My Favorite Lap

One of my grandpas died when I was twelve. The memories I have of him aren't of conversations we had or things we did together; I only remember strong impressions of who he was. I learned to read his nonverbal cues.

Grandpa was an only child, born in a sod house in eastern Colorado. I've realized in the decades since that he had incredible mechanical intelligence. He wanted to be an architect, but he was needed on the farm. He only attended school through the eighth grade.

My strongest impression of Grandpa was "German." What he thought or felt stayed locked inside. If a question was too personal, he was the type to shut it down abruptly. If an excited conversation in Italian is a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 for expression, Grandpa was a 2. He held everything close to his chest. A small change in expression or posture meant a lot. A slight twinkle in his eye or a half-smile was equivalent to someone else's belly laugh or bear hug. If he got angry or upset, it was like watching a Ferrari go from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds flat. I have a single memory of him standing up immediately to admonish one of my brothers, and even the memory leaves me feeling frozen, apprehensive.

The man those words describe may seem gruff and unapproachable, but that wasn't my grandpa. Somehow I knew he adored me without ever being told. I knew that he would allow me to do things he wouldn't permit from most other people. I have no memory of him saying he loved me, but I felt completely secure in his love.

One memory I mull over again and again is of Grandpa, sitting in his armchair reading his paper. His face is hidden by the spread pages, and all my preschool eyes can see are his hands and legs. Without hesitation, I go to him, push the paper out of the way, and climb onto his lap. No murmur or protest from Grandpa, but I'd snuggle into his left arm and chest, the paper would come back up, and I'd be on Grandpa's side of the page.

I always remember this when I ponder feeling secure in someone's love.

When I spend time with God, talking to him, listening to him, or sitting in silence with him, that security is what I feel. Other people might think of God as remote or angry or scary or unpredictable. He isn't to me. He's the one I wander close to, go to on impulse, or run to on purpose. Going to God or starting a conversation with him never, ever wastes a second wondering if he's too busy or if he has the time. He always listens immediately. He always takes me as I am. I can't remember a single time he's told me I'm stupid or stubborn or foolish or overly-emotional or immature--even when I am. Chris Rice wrote lyrics for his song, "My Prayer" that express my feeling well:

I feel You smile/ You feel my breath
You listen while I whisper nonsense
Simple exchange: Your will and I'm changed
And now my prayer ends
Thank you, Amen

My chattiness never bothers him. No matter how many times I interrupt myself or him, he still knows exactly what I mean. On my own, I would continually weave across the path of my life, going from ditch to ditch as I corrected and over-corrected; he gives me gentle guard rails. -If I put up guard rails, I promise you I'd make 'em electric fences so I'd KNOW not to make that choice again! He is far gentler with me than I am with myself.

If it feels like he's too busy, he's not. If you think he'll be angry that you interrupted him, he won't be. If you think he doesn't love you... you couldn't be more wrong. Take a deep breath and gather your courage if you need to, but go push aside that paper and climb up into his lap.

It's my favorite place in all the world.

February 27, 2017


So, yesterday... yeah. My troubles didn't seem far away. The day felt off-kilter somehow, and I didn't know why. I wasn't feeling or being the 'me' I know, and I didn't make sense to myself. Alone time may be the dream for all introverts and parents, but extroverted introverts (I call myself an 'ambivert') can actually get too much alone time. Feeling frustrated with my kids is normal; pulling away from my husband in conversation is not.
Something was off.

We got home from church, and I packed a small bag right away and told my family I was going out to a local wilderness-type park. It's become a favorite retreat for me, no matter what time of year it is. I drove out, parked, then trudged through sunlit snow to my favorite spot on a bridge over a small creek. For more than an hour, I sat in close-to-freezing temps as I talked, listened, and cried with God. He's my favorite listener.

I'm learning that talking with him, praying, isn't for him. It's for me. You can't imagine the hairballs of thought and emotion I dredge up when I'm with him. He either helps me untangle my inner knots, or he helps me realize the hairball is one he's supposed to handle.

Sitting on the bridge, I suddenly heard birds pecking in a nearby tree. As I started getting annoyed by the sound, I had the following inner exchange with God:
My child, what are the birds are doing?
They're pecking at the branches for bugs, I think.
Are they trying to annoy you?
No. I don't think they even know I'm here as they flit from branch to branch.
Are they using a 'perfect' system for looking for bugs?
No, it looks like they're just jumping from branch to branch randomly, sometimes going back to a branch where they just were.
Are they spending any time beating themselves up because they didn't thoroughly check the branch the first time? Are they scolding themselves because they didn't "get it right" the first time?
No... I don't think they waste any time analyzing their motives or choices, comparing who they are with their idea of who they could be or should be.
Why do you?

How are they looking for bugs?
Pecking the wood and listening for the change in sound, I think.
Why do they use those methods?
Because it's instinctive to how they're made.
So what are they doing?
...Looking for food, for sustenance, by using abilities they have automatically.
What do you think I expect, then, of you?

Later on, my gaze moved to watching the creek. I love running water so much. The play of light reflection fascinates me. It's been a source of so many, many insights for me. Yesterday brought more thoughts to resonate in my heart.

My child, what do you see?
I see light, sparkling on the water as it moves.
Is the water trying to reflect light?
No. The water is just being water, and one of its properties is reflecting light.
How do you think it happens that you reflect my light and my character: by trying, or by being true to how I made you?
-That's great and everything, God, but what happens when the water forgets how to be water? How is the water drop supposed to know when it's stopped acting like water and is trying to be alcohol by mistake?!
[Yes, I argue with God. No, he never strikes me down with lightning or yells at me. He's silenced me so very many times by how he listens to me in these moments and waits for my heart to hear him.]
Is the water trying to be water? Does it measure how 'good' a water drop it is compared to other water drops?
No. I think it just is water and surrenders to what it is and how it behaves.
Does it make itself be water or discipline itself into behaving like water?
No... It behaves as water without any thought of how to be water.
Are you?

Does the water always reflect the sunlight?
No... The water's actually sparkling because it catches the sun, then stops reflecting it, then catches it again, and so on.
Is the reflection less important when it isn't constant?
No... I think it actually catches my eye more because it isn't constant. The sparkling flashes of light make me stare longer.
Is the water aware when it's reflecting light and when it isn't?
No. I don't think the water feels any difference between the two.
Is the light reflection consistent no matter where you're standing?
No. Different angles of the water would reflect sunlight to my eye depending on where I'm standing or sitting.
Why do you think reflecting Me is in your control?
Why do you expect yourself to reflect Me every moment of every day?
Why do you think your assessment of how you're doing is true and accurate?
Why do you think trying to reflect My character is the way to grow closer to Me?
My beloved child... I have not asked you to be or do anything more than to recognize how much of a spiritual beggar you are, to keep your eyes open for spiritual food, and to be ready to point other beggars you meet to the bread you find.

Chilled, but calmed and content, I walked through snow back to my car (talking with God the whole way) and came home. I'm constantly amazed at how I bring problems to God, talk with him, get no clear answers or solutions to those problems, but end up content and trusting anyhow.

Yesterday my troubles felt very present and complicated; it felt like I was muddying everything. Now... now I don't think the answer to my problems is finding answers. When my problems look like they're here to stay, I think the answer (however unreasonable it sounds) is to be reminded who my God, my Abba, is. He reminds me who I am and what he expects of me. He reminds me I belong to him, and my value has nothing to do with how good my answers are. He reminded me yesterday on the bridge that he wants me to share my bread.

I feel a little shy about sharing this bread, because maybe other beggars won't see it as bread. Maybe my bread is only a crumb for someone who really needs several loaves. Maybe my bread isn't enough for you. But... God didn't ask me to evaluate my bread. He didn't ask me if I thought it was good enough or could be better. He told me to offer it to other beggars, people using the gifts he gave them to hunt for food. I pray these words on water and birds help you as you search. I pray we both keep looking until we find today's bread.

February 22, 2017

ADHD -- Ack... Don't Have the Desire

I'm having a hard time getting started on my "shoulds" this morning. This is not an unusual situation for me.

Over the last several years in particular, I've learned enough about myself to know why this is the case: I have ADHD. I never ran shrieking around rooms as a child; I did well all through school; there are times I prefer being alone. All of these things seem to contradict the general perception of ADHD.

Here's the way I explain ADHD: in every brain there is a traffic cop who stands alert, ready to tell our thoughts which ones may go, which have to stop, and which are out-of-line. Every traffic cop starts the job as a newbie, so every kid has to have practice in growing up before their traffic cop works well. In a brain with ADHD, that traffic cop is drowsy at best and asleep at worst. Picture the most chaotic intersection you've ever seen in Mumbai or Paris, and you'll see what a struggle things can be.

All the thoughts.
All the time.
Little to no awareness in the moment of whether this new thought (perhaps a thought on a skateboard) is or is not appropriate for cutting in front of the thought that was in progress (which was the size of a semi).
No rhyme or reason for which thought shows up when and takes over.

Those of us who take medication for ADHD usually take a medication that's a stimulant. It used to puzzle me that those of us with high energy were somehow helped by a stimulant, but the stimulant actually wakes up the traffic cop in our heads. With stimulants, some of us are better able to access our executive function and ignore distractions, stay focused on what truly IS important rather than what's screaming the loudest, and so on.

For me, my ADHD brings about a huge hill between me and whatever I might need to start doing that just doesn't interest me. I like novelty, interesting and exciting things! Routine tasks like laundry, cleaning, meals, showering, and even eating are the same battles in my head that most people have when it comes to running every day or doing math.

The struggle doesn't outweigh the fact that things still have to get done. Whether I like it or not, my family needs to eat. We really function better when we have clean clothes to wear. Today I need to put my head down and do rounds 3 & 4 of painting (2 coats) and sealing (2 coats) trim for my daughter's room so we can get her moved in.

I have ADHD, but God knew I would before I was born. To me, that means there's a way for me to look for him and surrender my self-focus without scolding myself internally, without making myself feel guilty for NOT doing this sooner, without comparing myself negatively to all those people I know who wouldn't have dragged their feet this long... There's a way to get over this battleground so that I am not injured and I can see the truth of who God, my Abba, is more clearly.

For now, I think it means ending a blog post, taking my coffee cup, and heading downstairs.
Maybe I can listen to some of my stockpiled podcasts while I work.

November 03, 2016

Sunshine & Shadow

Fall is easily my favorite time of year. There can be golden days with glorious colors and crisp air.

This fall I feel like I'm fumbling through the days and weeks. I've spent a lot of time on my own, trying to sort out who I am, where I am mentally, and what I should do or leave undone. It isn't easy. It isn't straightforward. I can't get a handle on solid answers, so it can feel like I'm not moving forward. When I run into friends and they ask how I am and what I've been up to... I don't know what to say.

Unvarnished honesty? "I spent all day yesterday in my pajamas, trying to journal or play on the piano to process a memory of an interaction with a teacher in fifth grade."

A skimcoat of spiritual struggle? "Today I've been wrestling with God, but I'm not sure what it's about."

Vague phrases that might pass for wisdom? "Lately it's been about facing unnamed fears and learning deeper trust."

It's excruciating to dig down inside myself and see just. how. deep. some of my self-told lies go. Every layer seems to require a cycle of "grieve-get angry-feel like a slug-find a healthier path-try to take baby steps in a new direction." This gets old really fast, by the way.

I just had a brief walk, and on my way down the sidewalk, I looked at light shining on and through bright leaves, dappled shadows flickering in a slight breeze as I walked. Seeing the play of light and shadow, I realized part of this time's purpose is sunshine & shadow.

Sunshine & Shadow is actually a quilting block pattern that puts light fabric next to dark. It uses contrast to put the lines of that pattern in stark relief. How the quilter arranges multiple blocks is up to them. This section of life that feels like it's been going on forever has had times of great joy and relief ("All those times of feeling incapable of finishing anything are, in part, because it's harder for my brain. I have ADHD.") and moments of shadow. There have been a few shadows this week. Learning that one place I use a gift isn't needed anymore, because another person was hired to do that work in-house. I'm glad for the company's sake--they obviously have a need that can now be met more easily by their own staff--but I also feel... lonely. I don't understand where my gift fits, now.

If life is all shadow or all sunlight, it's easy to categorize it and understand it. "Ah, yes! THIS is good. THAT day was not." Real life is rarely so simple. Joy and junk get mixed together, and sometimes I feel dizzy. For now, I'm choosing to acknowledge shadows that come, even if I don't know what to do about them; I'm trying to see and call out the sunshine. I'm learning that there always seems to be beauty somewhere before me, even if I have to look closely and wait in order to see it.

So I'll head back to working on a puzzle (sunshine--order, clearly defined end state) and watching a series about Egypt (shadow, sort of--death, mummies, men with money seeking archaeological fame). If your day is feeling all shadow, I hope you're able to start looking for the sunshine. I promise it's there. Look longer. Listen harder.

October 21, 2016

I Am An Offering

In the Bible, God describes himself as "I Am that I Am."
"I Am" is a confusing name to a child. Pondering it during my life, I've come to know that God is "I Am _______" for me. If I fill in the blank with anything good or true or lovely, God is that. No matter what I lack or who I need in any moment of life, he fills in that blank in the way I need most.

After 28 hours of labor, he was courage for me.
Unable to sleep or read or even think past immense pain, not knowing what was wrong with me so very many mornings at 3 a.m., he was security, comfort, and very present love.
When I've yelled at the ceiling because I don't like what he's doing, he's been a listener, waiting for me to work through my built-up mad.
When I'm hating a part of myself so much, dreading that I'm actually the opposite of all I long to be, he reminds me he created me and delights in me.

A few days ago, I was in my car listening to a worship song by Nathan & Christy Nockels.
You come as You are/ And I come as I am
And grace covers shame
You come in Your power/ And I bow down
And grace covers shame
You come like a flood/ And I'm lost in this
You come as You are/ And I come as I am
And grace covers all of me

The words overlapped in my head with thoughts of I Am, and I was stunned by a new realization: in the verses in the Bible concerning Jesus, there isn't a single time when he got defensive or argued for why his actions were right or got prickly about someone's reaction to him. He absolutely had emotions; he most certainly spoke hard truth to people at times. He didn't ever make excuses for himself or give any sign that he was insecure about his behavior.

I think Jesus took the time to listen to his Father God, but I know there are times he felt inadequate for what God asked him to do, as in the Garden of Gethsemane. Once Christ stepped into his Father's will, I think he had complete trust that God would provide whatever might be needed to fill in the blanks. Even if Jesus didn't feel ready. Even if things didn't happen the way he wanted.

I will never be perfect. I simply cannot arrive as the be-all and end-all, "Your troubles are over because _I_ am here" in any situation. What I can do is offer myself where God opens doors. I can agree to offer my writing, my musicianship, my creativity, my teaching and cultivate trust that my Abba, my God who is always the I Am, will show up with whatever else is needed.

All I have to do is offer and trust.

Sometimes the simplest things feel the hardest.

October 19, 2016

Thoroughly Cowed

I wanted to kill a dog this morning.

We have a large Siberian Husky mix (possibly Malamute, possibly part wolf) at our house. He's a gorgeous beastie, all 85 pounds of him. He's wonderful company for me during the day to talk to, pet, and so forth. He is almost always in need of exercise; this is a large dog who moves fast enough to keep up with a running deer. I've seen him do it.

Today I thought I'd be a good girl and exercise both of us right away. We drove to a small wilderness area nearby that has walking paths, trees, and a small creek. Cody loves to go there, and I've been able to let him off-leash most times we're out there.

Then came this morning.

We were walking--ok, I was walking; he was running--and came to the trail section that runs parallel to a county highway. Cody has been wonderful about obeying me, staying scrupulously to the path when I say, "Path." I don't know if he heard or smelled something new, but in no time at all, he was gone. Up the slope, across the highway, and out of my sight. When I crossed the highway myself, my heart sank.

Cody found cows in the field. If he is part wolf, I feel safe in saying that wolves do not have a herding instinct. A harassing instinct, yes. Herding, no. It was like this dog thought he found large new, interactive toys to play with. He raced up to and around several, seeming to delight in seeing that "these things move, too!" No barking, no howling, no trying to biting or attack (thankfully), but definitely chasing.

Then he swam across the creek and climbed up the other side, because he saw another group of cows! (All through this, mind you, I'm yelling his name in my Army-command voice.) It wasn't until a young male decided to take Cody on that the dog decided the weight difference mattered after all. Suddenly he 'remembered' I was calling him, and he ran back through the creek, across the field, and straight to me without running on the highway again. He was muddy, a massive dog-smile on his face, mouth open, ears back, mud & wet all over... I wanted to kill him.

I leashed him up, marched him in a straight line through the wilderness and right back to our car. Into the car, home in disgrace, and I took him out of the car (still on his leash) and marched him into the laundry room where his bed and dishes are. I left him shut up for a while. He's still pretty somber around me, tentative with his actions and gaze.

For as mad as I might have felt in the moment, I have to honestly recognize the times I go racing off, chasing things larger than me that have the capacity to injure me greatly. Even if it feels fun in the moment, I wonder how much dirt and possible injury God sees when he looks my way.

That insight feels very ham-handed, and I dislike even the appearance of "And here's the bad I do; I should feel bad about the bad I do" slap-my-own-face-before-another-Christian-does-it-for-me response. I sincerely am asking myself some of these questions, though. Are there things I'm chasing that I don't understand, that maybe require more humility? Are there ways I'm trampling all over someone else's thoughts or feelings because it matters more to me that I surrender to my impulse in the moment?

There were moments of seeing Cody fully alive, doing something he understands instinctively. It can be an amazing, beautiful thing. It shouldn't be a goal to kill that in him; the struggle and the discipline are to find ways of using that ability, channeling that energy, in a way that honors life around him, too. That is also my goal for my own misdirected abilities. Someday. So I don't end up chasing cows my whole life. : )

October 17, 2016

Grace in the Gray

Today didn't go the way I wanted it to.

When my family left this morning, I sat at the computer doing family history research. When my husband came home for lunch, four hours later, I was in the same position. Still in my pajamas, sitting cross-legged in our desk chair.

I don't have anything productive in hand from my hours researching. Ideas, time spent learning, information for my mom about her Irish forebears, yes; tangible results for so much time spent in hyperfocus, no.

Partly because of the wet, autumn-dreary, weather, partly because of the information I waded through, and partly because of my feeling that this morning was wasted time, my whole frame aches. It's just how 'me' works for now: any stress ends up resonating through me physically as joint pain and fatigue.

I hoped to follow up on some productive days last week--do some laundry, clean a few rooms, shower--none of those things happened.

Will I choose to keep reminding myself of all I didn't do this morning?

The act of sitting down to write this is a way of choosing grace. I choose to remember who I am: a learner, a puzzle solver, a girl who loves to find family stories. I choose to remember how enthralled I felt as I delved into Irish parish records and immigrant ship descriptions and sailing dates. I choose to be thankful for who I am, for a family who loves me for being me.

Today, so help me, I will choose grace in the middle of gray.