Sunday, December 12, 2010

A layer of Wonderful Counselor

I can remember my Mom playing Handel's Messiah for us all the time when we were growing up. Her big musical displays usually took place in the kitchen and when she really got going she would direct the boom box like an orchestra or grab one of us to dance around the kitchen with her. She loved Celine Dion, and Josh Groban, as teenagers we lacked the appreciation for a finely tuned vocalist. Celine Dion still isn't my first choice, but I have rocked a bit of Josh Groban from time to time, if you can really "rock" JG. Anyway, I still think of her and time Handel's messiah plays or I read through Isaiah 9. I am not sure I can really read Isaiah nine so much as listen to it sung Handel-style in my head, usually with an intense focus on the Soprano line.

In case you are unfamiliar with what I am talking about, use this handy link to get on the same page, it is pretty beautiful and my soul usually starts to move up and down with the music. I am pretty sure I do an embarrassing dance with my eyebrows too. I think my soul wants my body to ballet dance along with the choir, but since I lack even basic coordination my body and soul have settled on the eyebrow dance.

6 For to us a child is born,to us a son is given,and the government will be on his shoulders.And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Have you ever really spent time thinking through all the names of Jesus outlined in this verse? I wondered if we annually tracked every person they would connect with different names each year. For me each Christmas season is a culmination of the calendar year that goes before it. I sort through things at Christmas, I take stock, I make theories and I ask questions. I don't have previous years data to really flesh this theory out, I have never had THAT much time on my hands, but maybe I will now.

I think this year I really connect with "wonderful counselor" and the whole idea of what it means to relate to Jesus in a personal way, like you would relate to someone sitting across from you, offering you advice and counsel. Having started my masters in counseling at Asbury I know a little bit more than the average patient about the therapeutic process. The counselor listens and uses questions and key phrases to help the patient figure things out for themselves. Counseling would be less than half as effective if you sat down and someone told you: Here is what you are doing wrong, here is why it is so dumb for you to think or do what you are are doing, and here is what you need to do about it, like now.

What is so great about Jesus being our wonderful counselor is that he already knows all our history and our hot button issues. There is no getting to know you process when you allow him to counsel you and lead you. He is what we are craving in this world on the deepest level, he knows us fully, more than we know ourselves. And as an added bonus he knows how to best lead us, because he is perfect and has all the patience in the world. This last part sounds a bit tacky but it goes with the counselor thing- His schedule is always open for you. Have you ever been in therapy, had a craptastic day and wished you had appointment at that very moment? Wished you could pull a Jack Nicholson in "As good as it gets" and bust down your counselors door and start yelling about your momentary freak out? Not an issue with Jesus, he always has room for you.

I always worry that one of my doctrine teachers, or seminary geniuses is going to come along and read some of what I take away from the bible and think, "as I suspected, she really was not paying attention in the slightest." I was, I tried, and hey I did learn this: The Hebrews believe that each text has layers, facets, like a diamond. There are so many levels to each text that we can learn from. That's reassuring isn't it? This is one of my layers.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

No Mo!

Noelle's favorite word right now? More. Only it sounds more like "Mo!" which makes it so much cuter and easier to hear 3,512 times a day. It seems to me like the Christmas season can come on to some of us like a demanding toddler, always wanting one more cookie or sip of cocoa. And by cookies and cocoa I really mean our precious free time, money and sanity.

For as many Christmases as I can remember I have felt some ridiculously deep inner need to over book myself. Last year, for example, I committed myself to crochet everyone on my list a homemade scarf, and hand craft each Christmas card myself. We packed bags to celebrate Christmas out of town in Oklahoma City and in Michigan and were gone from Dec 17 - 30, and all this with a 7 month old. Disaster. It was too much. This year will be so much more low key.

I was talking with a friend the other day and she basically told me that being 36 weeks pregnant and having just lost my Mom, I pretty much have a free pass this year on any and all Christmasy bullets I would like to dodge. Since that talk I have realized that, yes I am pretty limited in my abilities this year, and there are many Christmas "norms" that I am not even going to attempt, because the odds are 97% certain that I won't succeed. So this Christmas I am thinking less gifts, no Penny family Christmas card, and much more hot chocolate sipped while staring at my Christmas tree grove which may or may not even get decorated.

I was sitting in the bath tub this morning and I thought wow, I wish I could share this uber pregnant just lost my Mom free pass with all my friends. Not the sad grieving parts but the more peaceful moments by the tree parts. That thought was followed immediately by this one: Why do we have to be going through something extremely hard to set ourselves up to experience some healing Christmas peace? Why should I be the only one enjoying chocolatey, quiet reflective moments bathed in twinkle lights? So my answer is that I shouldn't. I think we should all dig out our versions of the Christmas story, get to the heart of the matter and realize that Christmas isn't about being busy or bowing to the never satisfied god of "more." It is all about celebrating the freedom and salvation brought to our world by Jesus.

So even though going into this season my story and situation is likely and hopefully very different than yours, I hope you breathe
in the Christmas story like you would fresh cookies or a just cut evergreen tree. I want to send you a free pass to say "no" to the mo! (more) of Christmas, and yes to the "less is mo!." If you don't want to send 112 Christmas cards, don't. Send just 12, or none at all. Trim your shopping list, cut out a few holiday parties, make the what you do matter instead of doing so much that you don't remember or experience any of it warmly.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

what I cannot do today

I love the Jewish idea of binding things on your body in a very real and physical way. Because some truths seem so painfully obvious, but are next to impossible to keep at the forefront of your mind. Sometimes I want to wallpaper my living room with these truths, or tattoo them on my arms and hands. Or maybe on the foreheads of the people I surround myself with. Every sphere of life have a certain amount of these foundational and incredibly forgettable truths. Going through tough times is no exception.

Today's painfully simply truth? When you feel like everything is crumbling around you, focus on what you can do, not on what you can't.

Chances are if you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown, you can't do what you do on a daily basis. You can't fulfill the roles you hold in your life like you have always dreamed you would.

Let me bring it home and make it personal. Today I am on the edge, and if I had to tell you why, I couldn't. Teeny tiny every day things are pushing me over the brink of sanity today, and I have had several moments where I didn't think I would be able to make it to the moment of salvation when Kel walks through the front door after work. Noelle keeps trying to climb on the kitchen table and every time she does I think I am going to lose it. Little things like my water glass being out of reach are enough to frustrate me beyond belief.

So here is what I came up with to get me through. Don't think about how Supermom would navigate this afternoon, or even how you would normally do so in an ideal situation. Instead figure out what you can do to get through.

What I cannot do right now:
Multi task
Do Laundry and chores
Plan fun activities for my daughter
leave the house
feel great about my life
think about Christmas
Be in a super healthy place
Worry about how the entire world perceives me

What I can do:
Ask God for the strength to get through the next two hours
Admit that I am going through intensely tough stuff
Lock Noelle and I in the playroom
Be okay with her messing stuff up a bit, or a lot
Feed her baked Lays
Be thankful we have this bag of baked Lays in the house
Read her any book she brings to me
Keep her out of the dangerous stuff
Listen to the radio
Take deep breathes

I am not the Mom I always dreamed of being today, I am not the supportive wife I want to be, I am not the positive influence in the lives of our students that I want to be. This is not a permanent state, but if I can't admit that it is the state of things today, I will drown.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Serving > Ben n Jerrys

Today was one of "those days." Today I uttered the following phrases to my toddler: "Are you really eating a bowl of gravy?" and "Oh no you have burrs in your face" among other winning phrases that could be found should my day had an official transcriber. How annoying would that be? I am more exhausted than I could imagine being and I am waiting up for my Husband because he had some rough meetings today and I want to see how that went and share a cranberry cookie with him. Important note: By share I meant we each get our own but we will both be eating one.

Moving on. Even though my day was sort of a ball of lint stuck with burrs and covered in gravy, I am really pleased with it. Allow me to explain. Today I got the chance to stand up again and throw a few punches at life. For weeks I have felt like the pile of goo in the corner of every room but today some rough things happened in our family and I contributed to being the backbone. This comes as a shock to me because yesterday was one of the worst greiving days yet, depression settled in like a fog and the forecast seemed less than bright.

But, today I remembered a very important truth: Serving other people and being Jesus to them lifts you up out of your own funk. This is good advice, seriously write this down, because when you step up to meet someone elses needs you stop thinking about your own. You put yourself in someone elses shoes and think of ways to make their life better and stop focusing on how bad yours is (eve if it is!). Being selfless gives depression a good slap to the face, we wake up and go: "Huh, I'm going through something awful, but so are other people."

I know somewhere, way back in the dusty parts of my brain where I keep all things learned my college philosophy class, I remember someone very negative and crabby saying that you can't do anything selfless. This school of thought asserts that when you serve others, you feel good and hence benefit from it. Your positive result takes away the selflessness of the act. I guess to that guy (who in my head looks exactly like mike meyers from the SNL sprockets sketches) I would say that even if you go to a soup kitchen to serve pull yourself out of depression, so what? There were far easier options if I was the only focus of my actions. Such as eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerrys white watching an entire season of Project Runway. As I have heard some may be known to do...

God has us wired in all sorts of cool ways, but I think one of the coolest is the desire to forget about yourself that leads to serving someone, which in turn results in feeling lighter and brighter in your own heart. If I were more scientifically inclined I would make that into an eqation... somehow.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Swimming through pudding and a gray Christmas

Kel just took Noelle to buy Gravy. We are eating some thanksgiving leftovers for dinner and our gravy meter was on absolute zero so clearly this was a life or death WalMart run. This leaves me the first quiet moment I have had in days. My craving for this moment overshadows any cravings I have had for all of the Thanksgiving fare available to me in the past few days.

Let me start by stating the obvious. This holiday season has been and is going to be majorly rough. I have had no fewer than seven minor nervous breakdowns contemplating how to pull off Christmas 2010. The only real thing I have come to know for sure is this won't be the merriest of Christmases. I have my three trees up, which sounds impressive but really they're a grove of trees. And no it's not because I love to relate them to the "three trees" Christian children's book. It's solely because I like them, and I like things in odd numbers. Little known fact: we had to add an extra bridesmaid and groomsman to our wedding party bc I have this strange quirk of loving odd numbers.

So, back to this Christmas season, I am ready for the peaceful moments of it, I hope huge to see some snow before its all over. However, the overwhelming feeling I have going on is longing. I long for a "Glory Days" Christmas. Let me explain: In the glory days my Dad was around to pump out Christmas cheer like a snow machine. He was the king of the Christmas bargain and he turned our house into a Christmas cookie factory. Our family had the sacred tradition of hanging the "cosmic santa" ornament, which is, not surprisingly Santa in a space suit and helmet. Only Dad got to hang him and he had to go near the top. I knew what to expect out of a "Glory Days" Christmas. Tradition, Family, Snow, Comfort.

So here we go, Christmas 2010. Both my parents are gone. The home I went home to for Christmas will be on the market. No one lives there anymore, that home is now dead too and cosmic santa is in a box somewhere, and won't be on a brightly lit tree this year. Although I have dibs on him and will try to make it up to him in 2011. I have a blank slate for new traditions for our new little family, but I long for a comfortable Christmas that was all figured out for me. Many of you will get a comfortable and familiar Christmas. Know that I am a little jealous, but happy for you.

Kel and I were talking today about Advent and how the real nuts and bolts of the Christmas story allows for the gray years in between the glittery ones. I really relate to the story of Anna and Simeon. These were the two older folks who experienced baby Jesus when Mary and Joseph went to the temple to consecrate and dedicate him. They had been fasting, praying and waiting for the savior of Jerusalem their whole lives and generations had done it before them. And when they met Jesus, they rejoiced that the redemption of the brokenness of Israel was starting right then. The Bible tells us they could die happy and at peace having met Jesus and gotten to see with their own eyes the baby boy who would be their salvation. They had experienced many gray seasons of waiting and groaning. But that was their glittery Christmas.

Our beautiful Christian faith has room for Gray Christmases and in the story of Anna and Simeon the gray ones outweighed the . But the one far made up for all the years of pining and waiting. Now, I don't expect to have decades of tough Holiday Seasons before I have one that is lively and cheerful. But, I do expect this one to be as easy as swimming through figgy pudding, or banana pudding. I have never had figgy pudding so I'd rather relate to a pudding I know I enjoy. And as tough as this is it's good to know that the hard years come, and I don't have to fake the cheer, I can have my Christmas and be where I am at, it's in the bible folks.

So this evening, in the quiet space of my living room I take as big a breath as my very pregnant body will give me and I commit this Christmas to my God, to honesty, to lots of grace, and to the full knowledge that just because he came to heal all that is broken, does not meant that all that is broken is whole this year. Is there anything more beautiful and cozy than that truth in the midst of a painful gray Christmas? Not for me there isn't. Not even a huge bowl of banana pudding.

Monday, November 15, 2010

beauty and pain

On an hourly basis I am amazed at the blend of beauty and pain that can exist in life all at the same time. I can be experiencing a moment of deep aching pain over loosing my Mom, and at the same time my daughter can be twirling and dancing in the same room, and then stop her dance to come and give me a grin and a kiss. I carry my son and he continues to grow and approach his grand entrance into this world while I mourn my Mom's exit from it. There is not near as much black and white as I thought there was. You can have both polar opposites at the same time in the same room. Amazing, painful, joyful, amazing. The weird thing is I feel like I am observing these polar shifts instead of feeling them.

I think my subconscious response to these dramatically different sides of my life has been a numbness to all of it. It was best described to me as the fizz going out from life, like a bottle of soda, still all the flavor and sweetness, but the bubbles aren't there. I actually hate the numbness because I feel like the intense feelings would be so much more comfortable. It would seem normal to be aching and crying all the time, or to feel really big joy when I fold a tiny blue onesie or look at the latest ultrasound picture. Instead I just go "huh" I can't believe all this is happening to me.

Even my favorites are blander. I just ate pumpkin cheesecake ice cream for the first time. The texture was perfect, Ben and Jerrys knows their shizz. But the flavor, while it was there, didn't explode in my mouth. I want the fizz back. I want to have a food-gasm, or fall into a deep and restful sleep. Instead I feel like I am drifting for now. Just drifting through the fall, drifting through my pregnancy. Like I said I would prefer the intensity, but for know I guess I will drift.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The New Normal

Right now I am camped out in the valley, life isn't okay right now, what I am journeying through is a journey consisting of miles, different states, maybe even countries. I am not going to arrive at any sort of all better place in the next week or so. Now, what does this mean?

It means that I have a hard time being in large groups, I feel small and without skin. What I have on my mind doesn't always lend itself to an atmosphere of mirth. It means that a lot of times I would rather be home, in an environment that quite generally I know and can control. My entire life feels out of control but the walls, floors, furniture and fridge contents of my house I am generally pretty comfortable with. For now at least it means I don't want to put on make up. It may have something to do with the fear of crying off all the mascara. Or perhaps it has to do with the fact that I don't want to pretend to be at a spot of "all good" and for me eye shadow and eye liner flies in the face of how I feel.

This also means that I welcome the company of people who understand the space and time it takes to heal from a loss like this. I relish and savor a conversation about having Faith in the tough spots. I want to surround myself with people who understand that in things like this, God isn't up in heaven teaching me a lesson. He is down on my level holding me and his heart is breaking in sync with mine. Small theology that consists of only rainbows and sunshine are not helpful right now, although I have a grace for all who try to help, comments can certainly be made that are harsh in their simplicity. So I am guarded with who I go to the deeper darker places with, but I am not bottling, I do go there with friends.

I also need to make myself aware that while I will move through this, I cannot go back to the way it was before. The way it was before is simply not an option anymore. I will keep living, keep savoring the moments, keep choosing to see the joy in my life. But I don't have the luxury of being "before me" ever again. I only get to be "after me." This is one of those events on the time line of my life that can be used as a reference point. There are things that happened before this, and things that happened after this. I am now living in the after. And I am okay with it. I could be angry, and demand that life go back to the way it was before. I certainly want that, but in 28 years of living within the boundaries of space and time I am painfully aware that I cannot. I cannot go back to the night my Mom died and talk her out of it. I cannot go back and change the events that led to this pain. I can simply heal, and keep living.

So thank you, for having grace for me, for giving me time to be in the valley. Such a loss merits valley time, and there is no prescribed limit on it. I see myself picking up my tent in stages and moving it out of the shadows slowly.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I didn't order this

When you are going through a deep and painful grieving process, it's a very mixed bag when it comes to what emotion will rise to the surface next. I am sure that you are familiar with the five stages of grieving, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I like these stages in theory but if you try to tell me which one I am currently experiencing, you will likely just irritate me. I am aware of the stages and if I feel the need to label where I am, I will.

Through all these stages both Kel and I have felt this overwhelming sense of confusion and surprise. Just days before mom took her life I was straightening my hair in the bathroom while listening to the song beautiful things by Gungor. Our family likes music while getting ready in the morning, and we have iPod docking options in both the kitchen and the bathroom to accommodate this. On this particular morning I was listening to a song, which I love, called Beautiful Things by Gungor. The first few lines of this song deal with pain and a longing for something good to grow in the soil of your life. I remember thinking to myself, for this first time in a very long time I am not feeling an overarching sense of pain in my life. I do have an intense longing to be a fertile ground for God's work in my life, but I am content with my life, happy with where we are. Dads’ death took me a long time to get over, but on that morning I felt contentment.

Flip ahead two days, when I got another, completely different, earth shattering phone call. It just flat out doesn't seem fair that just when I was content, not proud, not boastful, but content that I should draw the "Go back to square one" card in the game of grieving a parent.

The best way I know how to describe how it feels right now is that I am sitting at a huge long table. The kind you would see in a castle where the two diners sit at opposite ends so ridiculously far apart that it makes conversation impossible. As I take my seat the waiter brings the traditional silver platter covered with a silver domed lid and sets it in front of me. The lid comes off to reveal something so incredibly terrible and awful that my entire body is repulsed by it. This isn't what I ordered. I don't want this. You have to take it away. But as much as my entire being is opposed to the contents of the tray I am steeped in the knowledge that this tray is my only option. And I have to sit in this chair for a long time and deal with what has been placed in front of me, and not only me my entire family.

This was supposed to be a season of joyful anticipation for the birth of our son, Noelle's brother. This is fall, and soon thanksgiving and then Christmas. This is my favorite part of the calendar year, the part I look forward to and savor. How could it be so suddenly defined by the arrival of this terrible thing?

I can say with honest sincerity that I don't point a blaming finger at anyone because this tragedy is now part of my story. In the future someday, I might, but today as I sit on our couch wrapped up in my favorite sage green blanket I am not angry at anyone, not my Mother and not God. I am just in shock that this is the now. I am in total despair at the length of time this will take to heal from, to process. I am keenly aware that there is good in the now, and that there is life still continuously moving inside and around me. I feel hope even though I know it will only truly come to bloom in the days ahead of me. And if I check the guidebook for my personal life I find myself without instructions on how to cope with this exactly. But I know that my God is pouring love into my life in the form of friends, family, and everything I eat that is made from apples. I love and live for apples in the fall, and that is one part of me that seems to remain unchanged. I feel that our family is being lifted up by prayer in an almost tangible way. All of that makes each painful day more possible.

And so I can be here, and feel the exhaustion, the hurt, the shock, the numbness and the pain. I can do this because he does make beautiful things out of the painful parts of our life even when he doesn’t cause them. I can live through this because while this death seems to define today it won’t define who I am. I can get up tomorrow and keep eating and breathing because I believe that even when something incredibly painful arrives and demands to become a large chapter in our story, I know it isn’t the entire story. That a beautiful theme will sing louder than the pain when the book of my own life draws to a close.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pieces of a Funeral

Not really ready to write about much but I do want to share a few things for those of you who were too far away to experience the comfort that was my Moms funeral this past Monday.

My Aunt had heard this song and really resonated with it and brought it to us to share at the funeral. It's incredibly powerful, painful, but fitting.

Here is the picture tribute put together to remember her life in photos.

And these two scripture verses came to the surface

Revelation 21:4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

James 1:12 Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

It was an incredibly painful hour for me, but I am so thankful that all these pieces and more came together to honor my Mom, attempt to make sense of all of this, and bring comfort to those in attendance.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

golden calves

So Kel and I are trying to read the bible in 90 days. And its intense. And we are behind. I always seem to start reading plans and then get stuck in Exodus or Leviticus and give up. So I reread Genesis thru Leviticus or so every time. I'm interested in seeing how the bible ends one of these times. I hope we win.

So today in Exodus, I was reading about Moses up on the mountain hearing from God about how things needed to be run in Israelite life pertaining to the ten commandments and the Tabernacle. And from what I understand he was up there a rather long time, about five and half weeks. And during this time the people got antsy, and bored waiting to see what God had in store for them. So they took the next logical step and built some golden calves. Like you do. And God was so pissed off that he wanted to end them. Moses had to talk him out of it and still God withdrew his presence from them so he wouldn't essentially end them by proximity.

Every time I reread Exodus, (which as mentioned above it all the time) I always try to put myself in a place of humility when it comes to the Israelites. No holier than thou attitude here, I make all the dumb moves they did, and some new ones that they hadn't invented yet. So back to the story, they couldn't wait on God to speak for five and a half weeks so they distracted themselves with other gods. And then threw crazy drunken parties to honor their new bovine buddies.

So I am an impatient person and prone to drama and distraction. I do not like waiting on God for big life direction at all, and if a big decision is taking too long I try to force it, my way. I mean our modern culture has us so preprogrammed against patience and waiting that I am surprised the word still exists. Everything is available next to now. Patience I am finding is a lost virtue, dying quickly and in need of revival.

So I was thinking about what my Golden calves may be, what needless and stupid things do I distract myself with when I grow impatient waiting on the Lord? I can tend to jump to conclusions and then work within those conclusions as if they were absolute reality. I also have a small golden calf of what if and worry. I like to paint for myself and my friends all sorts of potential end game scenarios and then build them up to be large and likely outcomes. Either way I busy myself fretting, dramatizing, what-iffing, and eating ice cream. None of which could be adequately described as waiting on the Lord.

Thankfully the story of the Israelites is one of constant death and redemption. And I don't have to live out their exact story line. My story can veer, and it does veer.

And then Moses said

Exodus 33:13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” 14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

And so tonight I think I'll just pray that, and call it good.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What I learned in Waco

Last weekend I had the gift to be able to attend the David Crowder Fantastical Church Music Conference in Waco, TX. It took me about three days to unpack our clothes and get our suitcases put back in their assigned spot. It has taken me a week to find the space to go through my notes and unpack what I took home in my heart. So in summary, suitcases are easier to unpack than 2 days of profound insight into worship. But profound insight is a more rewarding unpacking experience by far.

I have given it some thought and I think that the best way to write about it all is to give it to you in quotes and personal thoughts. So what you are really getting is what Leanne took away in her suitcase. Hope you don't mind.

Regarding Worship: "Sing a song with some people who really believe it instead of just mouthing words & critiquing the guy at the front" ~Francis Chan

Well I know for certain that I am guilty of an occasional session of worship critique. What I thought was profound about what Francis Chan said what that he discussed Worship as something we do for God, not something that we do for us. Duh. I almost always go for me. I almost always focus on if I like the song, the delivery, who just walked in and who hasn't walked in yet. Corporate worship can be a real struggle for me, me who is so easily distracted from God by social settings. And so the moments where I feel what I am singing and then actually relate it to using my lungs to tell the air how good God is are rare. Too rare. Worship is about God not my personal preferences. So maybe my best worship and exaltation happens when I am alone.

But here is the other key component: worship is about community. We gather to sing for a reason. What was so beautiful about this weekend was that it gave me a chance to be in a room with other people who has been stripped of their busyness and agenda and were given space to sing to God together. And believe it. And mean it. We were singing words and feeling them inside and then putting them out in the world to tell the truth about our God to the space around us. It seems like we have far too few moments where we realize that we aren't the only ones. We aren't the only ones striving, we aren't the only ones struggling, we aren't the only ones relating to God, there are thousands of us. And we can get together and sing something together and feel closer to each other and to God for it. And this is what God thinks is really good when it comes to worship. He sees our worship as "really good" and this is far more important than whether we had a good experience.

So yeah, that was Francis Chan.

And then there was Gungor, who sang instead of spoke.
They sang this:

All this Pain
I wonder if I'll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change
At all?
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground
At all?
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things out of us

I heard this for the first time sitting in the very back of the balcony in Waco Hall. And I cried because I knew again, I wasn't the only one. So often on a Sunday I feel like I can go out and make the following week into something drastically different than the week before. I am going to reflect, rest, read, and truly be with people when I am with them. I'll marvel at the beauty of a toddler learning to navigate her world. I'll walk outside and be reminded of the beauty and steadfast love of God. And then Wednesday hits and I'm so often irritated with my life, dissatisfied and weary.

And then I'm reminded of Sunday, and how this week didn't shape up as I wanted. There were fleeting moments of beauty, but more ungrateful discouragement than small wonderful moments of thankful reflection. But wait, he makes beautiful things out of, dust? And ground that has been longing to be tilled and cultivated can grow life? Yes. True. He does. He can. My life CAN change at all. Wow. Tears. Thanks God for bringing me here, not giving up on me. For waking up with me each morning at whatever time Noelle chooses and giving me another chance to open myself to you making my life into a beautiful thing.

That's enough for now.

Friday, October 8, 2010

On Flipping the Switch

You may not be like me, which is fine, but if you aren't then you may have trouble relating to this post and your opinion score for me may drop a few points. On the other hand you may be able to relate to me and feel comforted that you are not alone, so points be danged I'm going to fill you in on a secret. I on occasion go insane. I mean a ranting and raving, loose all sight of reality, want to throw dishes at the wall crazy. This state of being usually comes from one part desperation, two parts exhaustion and an epic failure to come through on self-care.

If you have asked me how this pregnancy is going I probably said "fine" and that I am not sleeping well. Still the case. No vomiting, I can still wear my shoes and wedding ring and cook with raw chicken. But the sleep thing is a killer, up five or so times a night for about 20 minutes or more each time. This is seriously messing with my REM and rest. On top of this my sweet little girl has decided now is a great time to start one of her very unpopular "get up at 5:15AM" phases. Thanks a ton my sweet one.

So enter me, this very morning, in the kitchen at 5:20 with hardly any sleep and one lovely yet demanding toddler yelling in sync with her unborn brother's kicking. And I still needed to figure out what to do for Bible Study at work this morning, which is not only a point of stress, but also guilt. If I was teaching out of overflow a deep an impactful bible study surely should have poured from my soul days ago. On top of cries of "Milk Milk!", a kicking unborn baby and undone bible study guilt, I enter the kitchen to find that my husband made an epic batch of Thai soup. The aftermath of which is taking up every square inch of counter space. Also we are out of coffee. And off the handle I fly.

I start with a groan, some muttering, a strong desire to break something plate-like. Then I turn to the nearest loved one and start telling them how this is all their fault. And you know you are a great mom when you're ranting at your hungry one year old for daring to wake up with hunger. Next closest person? (luckily sleeping) Kel. The maker of the epic soup mess. He gets some choice crazy ranting. Then I cry and say things like "It's never going to be okay" and "when is it my turn to be taken care of instead of the other way around?!" Then I tell Noelle that it must be nice to have breakfast handed to her on a silver platter every day. I am sure you can't relate.

Now enter the voice of God which is daring and true enough to speak up and say something like, "rely on him or you are never going to make it through." Often this voice will be the next person I take my rage out on. Well God, if you had ____ then I would have _____ and this never would have gotten so bad. Now I have a choice in this very moment. I can see a glimmer of hope, give the rage to God, take some deep breaths, sit down, and flip the switch back to reality. I can choose to believe that God is right, and that my crazy yet somehow delicious ranting is wrong. I can give my laundry pile of crap to him and allow him to help me with the steps back to reality.

However, this switch flipping is hard to do when you have flown off the handle. Off the handle is a place of freedom and lunacy, where nothing is your fault and breaking stuff seems like the logical next step. The amazing thing about God stepping into the handle free zone is that he shows up and draws us in, we just submit a little, he does all the work, yet it's so hard for us to A) choose to see him and B) believe that he is the voice of reason in the midst of our madness. We don't do much in our relationship with him, yet he loves us so much if we are willing to take the baby steps, he will run the marathon to meet us.

And so this morning, I sit exhausted, enduring another episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, with my switch flipped to sanity. I don't know much else about how it will all come together, I have a bible study thought, I am hoping for a nap, and maybe a cup of coffee.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Origins and home

Earlier this week I was drinking coffee at work with some in the den and talking about hot weather and the lack of apple orchards in this part of the country. One of them was playing guitar and started to sing a song, about me. The lyrics were amusing and mostly centered around my northernness. It included lyrics such as "organic crap" "damn yankees" and "gourmet pastries." I am completely aware that I have a reputation for being a bit pretentious when it comes to food. I'm fine with it because I am so completely non snobby when it comes to loving people. Or at least I truly try to be warm, kind and accepting when it comes to people.

So yes, I am from Michigan and yes I love cool weather, and Lake Michigan, and apples, and coffee shops but I am earnestly trying to make my home here. I truly believe that God has us here on purpose and for a reason and I see glimpses of this reason all around me. However, if I am honest with myself, Ada still doesn't feel like home. Which for me brings to the surface the question of where home is. Home isn't the house where I grew up, without getting into details, too much pain. Home is not Kentucky where we lived briefly before here. So home seems like an elusive place. I love our house here on Homer Road, I love that there is a bakery across the street, I used to love our flower beds but then I got pregnant and they are less a point of pride for me.

Anyway, there was another aspect to the song, a portion focused on how Noelle is an Okie even though her mom isn't. Now she was born right here in Oklahoma, but I like to believe I was able to infuse some Michigan-ness into her while I carried her for nine months. And I suspect this belief is correct because she loves applesauce, splashing in the water, and one moment last winter when a friend from Ada and I took our baby girls out in the cold her daughter cried and hid her face and Noelle flung off her hood and grinned at the refreshing cool air. Mission accomplished. She is my daughter.

I want her to be where she is from, but on the other hand I long to take her to Michigan in the fall. To crunch the leaves of an apple orchard and share donuts and apple cider with her. To take her to Lake Michigan in the summer and eat ice cream with her on Grand Haven boardwalk. To dress her up in a little dutch girl costume and watch her clomp around Holland in tiny wooden shoes. And to see what she does in falling snow, sliding down a small hill and enjoying my grandmas cookies and cocoa.

The interesting thing is I want to show you the same thing, I want to share who I am and where I come from with you, and that's what makes me a unique find in Oklahoma. Because I carry inside me the sense of something different, something a bit northern, and a bit rare for these parts. And I love sharing it, so I'll make you apple crisp and almond pie and tell you about how much I'd love to take you to see the wonder of western Michigan. And I will share with Noelle the things I love and help her develop a deep sense of where she is as we explore our surroundings together, touching and smelling it all. And I'll try to keep her from putting it all in her mouth right now.

She is a passionate girl, who loves outside, and all things sweet and carb. Today we watched her find a leftover cinnamon roll on a high table top and joyfully savor it as she ran around grinning. I can't wait to see who God has in store for us in her, and to impart who he made me to be into her, as an option at least.

But for now I sit on my couch, longing to stroll through an orchard with my family, not someday but tomorrow.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Me and 5 AM

Over the last few weeks Baby Barney, which is our code name for our son on the way, and I have reached a new level of closeness. I have gone from merely acceptance of him and A) his impending arrival into our home and B) The fact that he is male, to loving him and his unborn potential. You may think it is ridiculous that these things took me 20 weeks to adjust to, but this isn't your life, your pregnancy or your blog, so I am finding great joy and excitement in falling for him now, and I'm not looking back.

This new found love for Baby B has, I must confess, been made a bit more challenging by the rapidly decreasing amount of sleep he allows me to have. At 23.3 weeks pregnant I feel that going to bed at ten should reasonably involve waking up twice to pee, once at 2:30 and once at 5:00 and then falling back into bed and hitting REM in 45 seconds. However I am up once before midnight and at least four more times before I decide around 5:30 AM that it's just time to get up and start the coffee. Now I love the sunrise and the random cock a doodle doo of our neighbors rooster, on occasion. However I would prefer to see no more of either of them until January thank you very much.

Then this morning I had another thought. I have, in fact, been incredibly and shamefully absent in my time with God in the morning. By absent I mean, he shows up, I stay in bed, on the couch, or in the kitchen working on last nights dishes. Last nights dishes are truly a poor exchange for time with God I can assure you. So because it's too late for today, tomorrow I will be trying something new. I will set my alarm for 6:15 and have the coffee maker pre-programmed for 6:00. I will get up before Noelle and give God my first time. You see my thought this morning was that maybe God was stirring me far to early in order to force me to the living room, bible and coffee in hand. So maybe, just maybe, if I come more willingly he might be persuaded to help me sleep until the alarm goes off. And that would be blissful on every level.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mountains and rain

First of all I am writing to you from the comfort of my own home, on my couch, on my day off, and it is raining. Can I get a celebratory woohoo?!

This past weekend I spent my Labor Day free time in Taos, NM. It's a small and very upscale town surrounded by mountains and full of fabulous chefs. So needless to say I was in paradise. This was not the vacation we packed for however. We were going to go tent camping in the mountains surrounding Taos. However after 20 hours of chasing Noelle and begging her not to eat rocks and one night of attempted sleep in a 33 degree tent, we packed our camping gear faster than you can say tent stakes and booked a room at the Sagebrush Inn in town. And instead of chili from a can we enjoyed rum sticky buns, NY style pizza, tenderloin sandwiches with mango chutney, and home made ice cream. That seems to sound more like me.

But wait... I grew up camping with my family, in tents, and I loved it. So I have spent the last few days pondering what my bail out on camping move says about who I am now. I always thought I would progress from tent camper to maybe backpacker, because I really respect the people who strap what they need to survive on their backs and head out into the wild. However, after careful pondering during a 11 hr car trip, it may be my calling to do just that. Respect the campers and the backpackers and sleep in a queen bed with adjacent hot shower and have someone else make my french toast when I am on vacation.

You see I am starting to define who I am and who I am not. I am putting limits on my time and I am prioritizing my heart space this is definitely follow up action to the killing of superwoman post. So maybe I am a foodie and I am not camper. Maybe I am the sort of person who likes clean crisp sheets and I am no longer the kind of person who can deal with public showers... ew.

Right now I am reading a book called Bittersweet. It is by a pretty amazing woman named Shauna Niequist. Shauna's first book, Cold Tangerines, really did it for me. Her deeply honest and insightful writing style brings up in me all manner of emotions, all of them so good. The way she shows that simple life is the essence of real spiritual life grounds me in a very healthy way.

So since I resounding recommend her books and think you should go buy one or the other right now I'll make it even easier for you. Click this link and be blessed. or at least go here and learn a little more by checking out her blog. If you are disappointed I will make you dinner, but if you're reading this and we know each other you know it's not that hard to get me to cook for you. That doesn't mean you shouldn't take my advice.

So for now I am going to enjoy my last few moments of peaceful rainy day nap time.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Brainwashing Myself

So I think back to school has finally got the phinneas and ferb theme song out of my head. Well it did until I posted that. Also, 8 days until I get to go see a mountain again people. Do you hear that? It's quiet but... it's pretty much my heart doing cartwheels. Might be chilly (when have I ever minded chilly) but it's going to be gooooood for me, the Keller and the Noers alike.

Life has been good lately, like crazy good. When I see my husband walk up the walkway to our front door my heart has a woohoo! moment. And even when my daughter tries to scatter the contents of our DVD cabinet across the living room floor for the 23rd time in an afternoon of play, I have just enough patience to redirect her. And when I think of having two children, that are ours, at the same time, I'm cool with that. I owe a large portion of thanks for this re-found joy to one key source. Church. Yup, we have been doing a series on toxic influences in our life. You know the stuff that impacts your day to day life that is both totally influential and total crap. And so I have been sorting through my core beliefs one by one, and trying to incinerate the ones that are dragging me into the pit. And I have been putting some distance inbetween be and the things that are feeding me crappy lies, and you know what? I have some joy in my life. I have some hope going on. I see my future with this glow that has never been there before. I don't let all the mistakes of the past or my family's past project themselves onto my own future.

I think the most profound thing I have done, THE THING I have done that had the greatest impact on my current status is I committed murder. That's right murder. But I murdered and imaginary person so I'm probably not wanted for murder. Who did I kill, you may ask? Ideal Leanne. Let me give you a brief description of the deceased so you can obtain for yourself a clearer picture. She looked like Jillian Michaels, Martha Stewart, and the most perfect pastor's wife you can imagine. She had a beautiful home and garden, and a beautiful six pack, and a beautiful scripture quoting spirit that uplifted anyone she encountered like snow white did to forest creatures. She was it. The shiz. And my friends she had to go.

Here is why: Any morning I woke up and wasn't her, I was bummed out at my own self failure. I was trying so hard to be the apex on every level that I was killing myself. So instead, I killed her. And I really she doesn't come back to zombie me into relapse.

Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

So the ideal perfect Leanne, never gonna happen, doesn't need to happen needed to die. Instead I choose to live free and any time a memory of her come afloating back I say: God already has a Jillian. a Martha. and a whoever else I'm not stacking up to. He only has 1 me and I am going to go out and be her like crazy today. Bam.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Grieving is a Ninja

Grieving is a ninja, for me it is, well nowadays anyway. It hasn't always been a ninja, for a long time it was more like one of those Italian mob lackeys who stays in the room with you while you're tied to a chair and taunts you constantly. Then a couple times a day the lackey just comes over and beats the living tar out of you. Yep, for a long time I was in the mob lackey stage of grieving. But now i am in ninja stage where grief sometimes comes in stealthily and roundhouse kicks me in the face. The chances of getting ninja-ed increase steadily the closer I get to march every year. And would you look at that, today is Feb 9, getting awful close to March. Five years ago on March 19, 2005 my Dad died very suddenly. And so every March I feel that in a deep way. When I hear a song that he loved or that we played at a funeral I get the grief ninja kicking me in my head.

Today I got doubly kicked as I attended a funeral, a friend of mine lost his Mom last week and today they said goodbye to her. This was my first good friend to lose a parent since I lost my Dad. Five years and no one in my circle of friends lost a parent. Thank God for sparing them that pain. And I don't want to talk about it much because I want to support my friends as the grieve this loss and not have any of their support taken away. But here in this space I can't deny that helping them through this has put me back in the grieving mindset. Remembering all the things I went through five years ago next month. Five years, it's such a neat even number, but it is bigger than all the other numbers I have faced in March. It's one of the milestone numbers. Something in me scream that there is no way that five years can have passed since the last time I talked to my Dad, or hugged him, or saw his face on this earth. And grief unlike anything else is so steadfastly permanent. I don't get him back because I went five years without him. If I grieve extra well I don't get a prize. The years march on and Noelle won't meet her grandpa, not on this earth anyway. And you have to understand that so many days this is completely okay. And that if you were to ask me about my Dad about 80% of the time I can tell you about what happened and not have a tear well up.

I don't know how I am going to do this March, maybe the rawness that has resurfaced will subside, calm down and go back to whatever box I keep it in. I have thought about making a soundtrack of these last five years, of my journey away from Dad. This was so much easier when I still lived around the people who held me up as it happened, how do I re-explain it to new friends, trust them with this part of me?

Maybe I don't. I don't know. For now I Am going to get in the tub and just let my mind do what it needs to do, let God into the mess of grief instead of keeping him out of it as I am more prone to do.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010. I acknowledge you but I still don't like you.

I think I know why I hate new years. It is concrete proof that time has passed, a year in fact, and I am still not happy with myself. My organizational levels are at an all time low and I don't care to talk about how often i vacuum the carpet and all that is irritating enough I assure you. But my real shame comes from this: Another year has passed and I spent more days ignoring my relationship with God than nurturing it, immersing myself in his love. And I hate myself for it, yes I do need to use the word hate. Now I know that I struggle with grace, but I really can't bend on the need to improve in this area. I love the view out our dining room window. It's beautiful, and there are these rare moments when i can enjoy it as it is rather than think about the work I need to do to improve it. Right now is one of these moments. And not just because the imperfections are blocked with window panes and drywall. I feel like this woman right now instead of feeling like myself.

Someone told me some time ago about the concept of wallpaper in your mind. I know that sounds funny, but imagine your mind, your thinking place, as a room. Now imagine it has wallpaper in it. This wallpaper affects the way that you live your life. I really believe that our culture is trying to hog all the wall space in the room of our minds with what I Imagine to be bright neon 80's hair band type posters. The kind that glow when you turn a black light on them. And then there is the deep truth underneath all the TV shows, Billboards and Social Networking. The ones that are infallible and have invaded ever speck of dirt on this planet and can not be denied. And they line up with every word from the mouth of God. To me they look like smiling babies, mountain sunsets, peaceful oceans and seeds sprouting up from deep brown soil. And they feel like peace, and they feel safe, and you don't need to say the right thing for them to be there for you. They can be your validation instead of status comments, but they don't scream for you like the 80's hair band posters do. You scream if you ignore them too long. Well I like most of us have put up plenty of 80s hairband posters in 2009 and all the years inbetween 1982 and 2009 and not near enough mountains and sprouts. And my heart is dried up today. I wonder if that is why I take so many soaking baths, I don't even wash my hair when I bath I just lay there and stare, I bring a book but never get to it. I just lay and soak, maybe I am trying to rehydrate something dry in my heart. Probaby not, but it's a great thought. So anyways all this to say that I want to actively tear down a gaudy unsatisfying poster today and put a beautiful little sprout picture in its place. Ready. Set. Go.
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