Sunday, April 16, 2017

When Easter Doesn't Come

It's Easter. Resurrection Day. 

But what happens when you are still waiting on the miracle?

For some of you, you will enter into this day with great anticipation, joy, hope, and peace. I am truly glad for you. I’ve been there, felt that, experienced the breathlessness of life anew. So, could you do something for me? Would you enjoy the day? Would you sing your hearts out? Shout an extra loud alleluia? Throw your head back in exhilarating laughter? Hide the eggs one more time? Celebrate with abandon? Will you do that - for your soul and for mine?

There are those of us who will not and can not wholly enter into Easter joy. There are those of us who will still be waiting for a miracle even after the women go to the tomb. There are those of us who, early on the third day, will be believing God, loving Him, and clinging to Him in raw trust, but Easter will not dawn for us.

For some of us, the empty tomb is simply the reminder that new life hasn’t taken hold in the reality in our circumstances. For some of us, we are still looking for the angel at the tomb. We are still desperate to hear Jesus speak our name in the garden. We know only the fear and uncertainty of the disciples because we are still living a Friday and our hearts are hurting and our souls are in pain.

I don’t mean to bore you with details or to play the martyr. I just want you to know that my pain is real. For so many different reasons, over many situations, I have cried more tears than I thought possible over the last year. I’ve become a pro at self-pep-talks so I can reel myself back in and put another foot in front of the other. Even still, after twelve months, there’s no definitive end in sight. I don’t have clarity, direction, or answers for the questions asked so often of us. Sometimes pain just needs to be experienced, not explained.

It's Easter, but I am still waiting for my resurrection. And I am reminded of one lesson I discover over and again on this journey…

Resurrection takes time.

I think about Lazarus’ death recorded in the tenth chapter of the gospel of John. How Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother, Jesus’ dear friend, was gravely ill. And Jesus’ response was to stay put, right where he was. Even when the disciples urged him to go quickly, he resisted. It was days before he began the journey to Bethany. By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus is dead and buried. Jesus, it seems, is too late.

I identify greatly with both Mary and Martha in this story. Mary is so distraught that even at the mention of Jesus’ arrival, she remains in the house grieving. Martha, on the other hand, meets Jesus on the road and tells him that if he had been on time, Lazarus would have lived. She knew Jesus could heal, and that's why she sent for him. But now? What good is healing sickness after someone is dead? She had yet to see the length, breadth, and depth of Jesus' healing.

There have been so many moments during this season of life that I’ve been like Mary. I know Jesus is near, but I am paralyzed in my pain. At any given moment, you might find me standing stock-still in the middle of a room, eyes closed, and tears running down my cheeks, as I acknowledge to God once again that I trust Him. These are quiet, but hard fought, moments of surrender.

Then there are the moments I channel Martha, and in the middle of the frenzy, I march right up to Jesus and give him a piece of my mind. I shout. I stomp my feet. I stiff-arm him. I put my hands on my hips and inform Jesus that if he had just held up his end of the bargain, life would be a whole lot better right now. That I would have a story to tell of his goodness. If he had just come when I had called…the first time. And these are the moments I am humbled because God is teaching me something. 

God’s ways aren’t my ways and one day, I will be glad of that truth.

Jesus’ delay in coming to his friend’s aid could have been perceived as cruel, but Jesus knew something the crowd didn’t. Lazarus’ healed sickness would indeed have shown the power of God over disease, but God wanted more for us then just a cure for illness. Lazarus’ once-dead, now-resurrected body would demonstrate the full power God had over disease and death. 

God is the god of life. All life, even where death reigned. God wants life for you and for me, and He has the power to bring it to pass. Had Jesus dropped everything and come running when Martha wanted, we would have been given the good gift of seeing sickness healed, but we would have missed the best gift of knowing the God holds the power of life in His hands. All life, even where death reigned.

Jesus wants to give us the best, not just the good.

Jesus wasn’t late. He was right on time, and therefore those at the tomb that day, and those of us who read the account millennia later, receive the best gift. No matter what Martha said. No matter how deep Mary’s grief. No matter what the perception of the disciples, the judgment of the crowd, the whispers of the people. The delay was necessary. The wait was essential. 

Resurrection takes time.

So, it’s Easter. Resurrection day, according to the church calendar, but I am still in the waiting. Today, I will still identify with the disciples on Saturday. I will still identity with Martha and Mary at their brother’s deathbed. I’m still wondering what Jesus is up to as he takes his time getting to my struggle.

Last weekend, we moved into our temporary housing arrangement until we figure out the next step. Until God shows up and breathes life into us again. And I have placed this plaque above the kitchen sink.

This is one thing I know to be true. God is faithful. 
Even though it is still Friday in my heart, God is faithful. 
Even though I am still crying at the tomb, God is faithful.
Even though my stone hasn’t been rolled away yet, God is faithful.

And in time, my Easter will dawn. Jesus is on his way, and with him, he’s bringing the best. It has just taken longer than I ever anticipated. It’s just required more than I ever imagined. It’s just demanded more trust than I was expecting to exercise. But then again, this Easter I am learning that

Resurrection takes time.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Pepto Bismol Pink and the Square Footage of a Tear (The Move)

I'm quite sure I have cried more in the last 11 months than much of my cumulative life before last May.

I am not a crier. Not usually.

But that was before this journey. Before almost everything in my life turned upside down and inside out. Before the diagnosis of my depression. Before I lost my dad. Before my husband and I were unemployed. Before we said goodbye to a church family. Before we put our cat to sleep. Before Shamus had a name. 

…and before we started packing up all our belongings.

In 5 days, we will empty out a house that has been our home for nearly 19 years. We have 120 hours before we leave the residence I have lived in for almost half my living - the longest I’ve lived anywhere. In less than one week, our children will say goodbye to the only home they’ve ever known. 

And I am a weeping wreck as I box it all up.

It’s not the stuff that leaves me saddened. It’s the thought of departing from a physical space that has become a large part of who we are. A tangible place that has represented an emotional and spiritual adventure into adulthood. It’s the life that’s been lived within these walls that leaves me grieving.

The front door has swung open wide for friends and family through the years. It’s served as a gateway between us and those in our community who have needs. It’s been the visible symbol of how we have found our own hearts opened to a city that’s put down root in us. The entryway has been that sacred place of countless excited hellos and tearful goodbyes. The place where conversations extend between friends because there was one more thing to say…and then one more…and one more.

Our living/dining room is painted in “Mexican Sand” brown, and in the space of those walls Paul and I learned how to be husband and wife. We cut our grown-up, marriage teeth in their midst - away from family, starting ministry, and unabashedly idealistic. That room saw far too many furniture rearrangements; and the worn out beige carpet has cushioned first steps, massive blanket forts, and the knees of a couple facing difficult times and important decisions.

The kitchen is still decorated with apple tree wallpaper that was hanging when we first arrived. I thought it was divine providence, as I had registered for an apple clock. That’s the room that taught me how to cook more than a frozen dinner; where I roasted my first Thanksgiving turkey, prepared birthday meals for friends, chicken soup for upset stomachs, and made cookies with my kids. It’s also the room that Paul and I seemed to have the most arguments. We (not so) lovingly call them our “kitchen conversations.” 

Our bedroom on the main level started out as our guest room. We were so proud to welcome our parents. Proud to have a place prepared just for them, complete with a forest green area rug decorated with mauve roses. When we decided to move our room downstairs, we never dreamed we would sleep for another 15 years inside those walls. Those walls that have comforted us late at night, when the gun shots are heard or neighbors are fighting, and we are acutely  reminded that our neighborhood is changing. Those walls stood guard as we’ve soothed scared children or snuggled in close to take read aloud to our littles. Those walls have held the deepest, most intimate, most vulnerable moments of our marriage. 

There’s the small bedroom at the end of the hall too. That room that has gone from office to craft space to nursery to school room. That 90 square feet has kept vigil with sleep deprived parents, heard lullabies and prayers sung for babies, and has gathered the struggle of a new mom trying to nurse her infant. Those walls have felt painted pink stripes two times over because we were having a girl; and the first pink reminded me of Pepto Bismol and this child was our first and everything had to be perfect. Those same walls would be painted a light tan three years later because we were now having a boy…and Paul wasn’t painting stripes again.

There are the 13 stairs that curve up into the second floor. Carpeted stairs that have felt the tumble of children, the frustration of a tween, the excited feet of friends that have come for a sleepover. Stairs that have carried us up to our children after long days so we can tuck them in. A stairwell whose walls have been covered in countless pictures and drawings hung up in proud display.

And the two bedrooms upstairs? Those are where our kids carved out their own space. These are the field of imagination where they’ve been growing up (literally). These are the rooms that have constituted their comfort zone; where hours of play have helped them learn, where books helped pass an afternoon, and where serious talks about hurt feelings and getting older have happened. Nightly, within the safety of these rooms, our children have been nuzzled, hugged, kissed, tickled, and prayed for, sung to, and loved beyond measure. 

On the outside of these walls, lay a mixture of grass and concrete making up hours of leaf raking, bike riding, light saber duels, and birthday parties. In the front yard, with the old oak tree as a backdrop, we took Easter, Halloween, and First Day of School pictures. We stayed up late, stood in that yard and gazed at a blood moon. The back yard is filled with the echoes of child’s play and the faint scent from the lilac tree we planted there nearly a decade ago. The back porch has been a kind of sanctuary for me where I met with God time and again through the soft spring breeze, the thunderclouds rolling is, the heights of the pine trees in the distance, and the blazing sunsets splashed across the sky.

On a piece of property less than a quarter of an acre, inside a house just over 1600 square feet, I have been changed. The person that will be closing the front door for a final time in less than a week is not the same person who opened it up for the first time 18 years ago. 

An inanimate object has come alive and wrapped itself around us like the familiar embrace of a confidante. The stone and siding and shingles have helped construct a life for which I am immensely thankful For us, the sweetest, safest place on earth has been has been in FLINT of all places?

I knew we had made a house into a home over the years. I know we can do that again in another residence. What I didn’t know was how hard the goodbye would be; how deep yet another loss in this last year would affect me.

Is it possible to box up the memories made between four walls? Or bubble wrap a heart that is breaking? Will a U-Haul hold the essence of what a home becomes? How do we leave the place but take it with us? How does an empty house hold so much? What's the square footage of a tear?

That is, in part, why the tears have flowed so freely. While I take memories of this house with me, I also feel I am leaving a piece of myself behind. A part of my journey that I connect with most readily within these specific walls and rooms.

I am not usually a crier, but as our family prepares for another significant goodbye, the tears have been close to the surface.

So, I will pray that my salty tears will prepare the ground for the seeds of new beginnings. I will pray that the stirring up of a myriad of emotions will be used to till the ground of my heart. I will pray that with this difficult goodbye there is also a resurrection hello to come. Something new. Life from death. Beginnings after the endings. Joy from mourning.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

McDonald's and Jesus

It was a source of our shame. We didn’t want anyone to know. We wanted to hold that information close to our vest. 

Sometimes life leads you to a place you never wanted to go so you can see a little more clearly.

…like when he saw the exhaustion in her eyes. The brand new mom. Single and without a partner.

..or when he saw the man fight for the right words, and when those words wouldn’t come, his hand went to his forehead and he began to shake. Followed by profuse apologizing.

Sometimes life takes you where you wouldn’t normally choose to go so you can hear a little better.

…like when he heard the thirty-something’s dream of being a stand-up comic. And then came the invite to open mic at the bar so he could watch his new friend.

…like when he heard her say she didn’t want to be there, which is understandable. She’d recently lost twin babies at 5 months pregnant.

Sometimes life rocks you to the core so you can learn something you thought you already knew.

…like when his own prejudice for minimum wage workers was shattered as he rubbed shoulders with them everyday, never dreaming he’d find people he liked so well.

…like when he found himself surrounded by real people with real stories and no church background and realized he unexpectedly uncovered a makeshift congregation to love.

Yes, it had been a source of our shame. An embarrassment we wanted to hide away. A fact we were hoping no one would have to find out. 

Our little secret?

For the past two months, 
my husband has been working at McDonald’s.

Sometimes life takes you to a place you never wanted or would choose so you can actually get where you thought you were all along.


Almost 5 months ago, my husband and I completed 18 years of ministry at a single congregation. We knew we were making the right decision for our family. Putting emotional health and family care above a certain future. We walked away not knowing what was ahead. Without another job in place. Without an alternative source of income in tact. And this has been the hardest 5 months of my life.

Nothing has gone as I expected it. The job market is brutal, especially in a city that is fighting for survival. Potential employers don’t rush to your schedule. They don’t call when they say they will. There’s very little face to face interaction in this day of internet job postings and electronic applications. 

So what do you do when your community contacts are tapped out, your ministry degree gives you a breadth of experience that qualifies you for nothing, 70 applications later no job has come through, your hope is slipping, your savings is dwindling, and there are bills still to pay?

Enter McDonald’s.

The going has gotten tough. And sometimes you just take what you can get in the meantime. But who really expects “the meantime” to be the main thing? Maybe that’s what John Lennon meant when he said “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”

It took a whole lot of humbling, for my husband and me, to come to the place of accepting McDonald’s as a option for employment. That’s where we go to grab dinner, not to get a paycheck. We smile from the lobby, let others wait on us, get frustrated when the burger isn’t plain, and slowly begin to buy into a lie we never would have admitted before - that we who have been college educated, white collar workers are better than the people behind the counter.

Sometimes life seems to be closing in on you so you can realize how small-minded you’ve been.

Nearly every day after work, Paul has a new (sometimes entertaining) experience. He spent a whole shift at the fryer making sure those fried potatoes of deliciousness haven’t been sitting for more than 7 minutes. Most days, he works the register and will take your order with a clean-shaven baby face because corporate doesn’t allow facial hair.

Nearly every shift sends him returning home with a story. A new co-worker he’s met. A talkative customer he’s encountered. The 911 call that had to be placed. Individuals he might never have crossed paths with except for the intersection at the golden arches. Co-workers he has come to care about. Faces that have become precious to him. People who have shattered his biases and his prejudices.

Just the other night, I sat on the bed and watched Paul’s eyes grow red-rimmed as he talked about the people with which he works. People who months ago had been relegated in our hearts as less than, lower, beneath us.

And in that moment, I was convicted by my unknown blindsides. Rattled by my arrogant attitudes that would dare to exalt me above another simply because of employment. Because of hourly wage. Because of prejudice.

I looked at Paul and murmured, “You’ve met Jesus, at McDonald’s haven’t you?” He has been working the drive-thru window, stacking the Big Mac, ordering a fish filet combo. He’s had black skin and white skin, been female and male, old and young. He’s been staring back at my husband every day as his defenses have dwindled and the layers of our prejudice lay exposed.

The fast food business has served up a needed glimpse in our hearts. It's also allowed a precious glimpse into the face of Jesus. McDonald’s has brought us to a place we never would have chosen so that we could get where we needed to be…loving those at the margins of our lives; embracing those at the other end of our prejudices; leveling the ground at the cross in our minds.

Months ago, our short-sighted, small-minded thinking led us to believe we had already overcome these points of intolerance. We thought we would recognize Jesus when He showed up. 

We were wrong.

Had we overcome this bigoted classism, we would never have felt embarrassed. We never would have resisted wanting to tell others what we were doing to have some money coming in. What we had hoped would be a short stop at an unwanted station has become one of the sweetest gifts we could experience in these uncertain moments of our lives. 

We’ve seen Jesus.

…in the eyes of an exhausted mom.
…in the fumbling words of a customer.

We’ve heard Jesus.

…in the coworker’s dream of being a comedian.
…in the story of a grieving mother whose arms are doubly empty.

We’ve met Jesus.

…and He has exposed our sin of prejudice.
…and He has seen fit to gift Paul with a community to love.

Sometimes life isn’t what you expect at all, and you realize you are the better for it.

Jesus said, "Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, 
that was me—you failed to do it to me." 
- Matthew 25:45b -

Friday, January 27, 2017

My Hijacked Hypotenuse

“Sit in your circumstances.”

That’s what he said as I sat on the loveseat in my therapist’s office.

He might as well have thrown cold water in my face. He knew I tended to be a Type A, task-oriented kind of person. What he couldn’t have known was that I had recently bought a wall hanging with silver letters situated on a pale blue background that read, “Live life on purpose and with intention.” No wonder a favorite class of mine in college was Strategic Management.

Sit in my circumstances? 

You’ve got to be kidding.

Everyone knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And if you have spent any amount of time with me, you know I am always looking for that straight line. Be efficient. Be strategic. Be intentional.

Right triangles and I have something in common, there's a mutual love for finding the shortest path. It's called the hypotenuse.  

God bless the hypotenuse. It’s the path I would always choose to take. It’s the one I have encouraged lay leaders, pastors, mothers, home educators, and everyone in between, to take. The hypotenuse road is one of efficiency, of intention, of focus. It’s the one that makes sense.

Until it doesn’t.

The last 8 months, over and over again, I come back to this same disconcerting realization: Some things in life can’t be controlled or managed or time-tabled. No matter how hard I try, there are some things - like depression, like grief, like transitions - that lay beyond my ability to plan it, plot it, strategize it, choreograph it, or road-map it. Much to my dismay.

In some annoying twist of fate, there are some circumstances and seasons of life that require a round-about kind of path.  The shortest path (line ac in the diagram below) is inaccessible. The hypotenuse is marked “Road Closed” and we are forced to take the long way. (The long way being line ab and to line bc.)

These are the times when we don’t get to choose how long, how far, how much, or how difficult the journey will be. 

My first response to this unwelcome reality? 


Hence my therapist’s ever so wise instruction to park myself 


“sit in my circumstances.”

So, I’ve been trying. Trying to just relax a little, release the need to plan and know all things ahead. Trying to take each moment as it comes. And don’t think the irony of those last sentences is lost on me. It isn’t. There’s something hilariously dysfunctional about a Type A strategist “trying” to relax. It’s like saying I plan spontaneity. You can thus understand my struggle.

Peace has been elusive on a lot of days. I’ve beat my fists against the wall of control to no avail. I have resisted nearly every step I’ve taken on the journey, until I exhaust myself, and fall to my knees in surrender.

Sometimes the giving-up isn’t seen in a white flag, but in unseen tears. Sometimes surrender comes dressed in too many sleepless nights from a brain that won’t shut down. I haven’t rolled out the red carpet for the giving-in, because giving-in to the journey comes at a price I wouldn’t choose to pay on my own.

The hypotenuse has been hijacked, and I am forced to do what I am not wired to do sit in my circumstances and take the long, round-about, you-will-get-there-when-you-get-there path.

For the last 8 months, I have been learning to take each day as it comes. 

That has meant walking through a few months of depression when every day was a bad day. I would lay in bed and count it a win to get my feet on the floor. 
I weaned onto medicine painfully slow. With every increase, I suffered difficult side effects. I have come to terms with the truth that I did not choose depression and the fact that it being a part of my story does not reflect a lack of faith on my part. So I have discovered how to be kind to myself, and sit in my circumstances. 

For the last 8 months, I have been learning to take each day as it comes. 

That has meant giving grief permission to show up whenever it’s gonna show up. While my dad’s days were measured out on this earth is definitive measure, my grief is not. Grief is far from a scheduled journey, and doesn't make friends with logic or convenience. I can’t escape grief. I only choose my response to it. Losing my dad has been the most significant loss of my life, so I have owned every shred of it and refuse to patch it up with efficiency. So I welcome grief as an unpredictable visitor and sit in my circumstances.

For the last 8 months, I have been learning to take each day as it comes. 

That has meant making hard choices so my husband and I can honor the priorities of self-care, family cohesion, and authenticity. So we walked away from 18 years of service in one congregation. We lost position, relationship, identity, and certainty for the hope of gaining something greater. Transitions are hard, and even when you choose them they don’t always go as you desired or expect. They certainly tests one’s faith. In this current transition for our family, there are so many pieces over which I have zero control. I can wrestle and squirm and protest all I want, but it doesn't get me any closer to Peace. So, I loosen my grasp, fall on the mercy of God, and sit in my circumstances. 

For the last 8 months, I feel I have been walking a road littered with warning signs labeled:

And the truth is, sometimes, the only freakin' way we will take the long way is for the hypotenuse to be hijacked.

There is no shortcut for some things. No easy way out. No fast track. No insider tip. Just a sitting in the circumstances, whether you chose them or not.

----     ----     ----

Months later, while sitting with my therapist, I mentioned the parable of the lost son (Luke 15). After months of sitting with myself on the slow track to God knows where, I questioned for the first time whether I've read the intent of the lost son all wrong. I’ve always seen the younger son dishonoring and disrespectful, hearing his words laced with discontent, maybe with disdain dripping from his tongue. 

This season of my “HIjacked Hypotenuse” has given me a different perspective on some things. What if this journey, even though of his own volition, perhaps even begun in rebellion, was the very road that led the lost son to sit in his circumstances and be found? Maybe this round-about path through estranged family, short-lived wealth, fair weather friends, and pig slop was what could finally pave the way for the pivotal verse 17…“When he came to his senses.” Some translations say that this young man “came to himself.” It’s from a Greek word that means “to appear, to come into being, to be established, to become known.” What if this path, one I have judged and scorned in the past, was exactly the one needed to get the younger son right where the father had desired him to be all along - in loving relationship with him?

There’s something to be said about hypotenuse living, but some things just won’t travel that road. And I am beginning to realize that some parts of me would never come into being and be known if my hypotenuse road wasn’t hijacked.

I have made progress, much progress actually, over the last 8 months, but it’s not over - this sitting in my circumstances. I am still sitting. My hypotenuse road is still closed. I am not getting anywhere fast, and maybe that’s exactly the point. Maybe I am right where I need to be so I can get to where I need to be. Maybe getting nowhere fast is exactly the path that will get me there. 

If so, strategy must be put aside for trust. Intention must be traded for attention. The choreography of a well-laid plan is chucked for the experience of improvisation. And none of it has come naturally, but I am getting better at it.

I still fight for control, but I am learning to sit in my circumstances. And I believe, although some days my belief hangs by a thread, there will come a moment when I will awaken to myself. And when I have been graced enough to "come to myself", maybe I will find I am in a place I was always intended to be. 

But maybe, just maybe, it never would have come about without my hijacked hypotenuse road.

"We humans keep brainstorming options and plans, 
but God’s purpose prevails." 
- Proverbs 19:21 (MSG)