A Season of Solitude

I’ve been in a season of solimetude. Which, if you have known me for any amount of time prior to three years ago, you know this is beyond odd for me. I have a reputation for being social.  For being the host.  For being the consummate extrovert. Energized by the masses. Thriving amid clatter, chatter and chaos.

flowers

peaceful things at home

About four years ago things began to change. Mom was diagnosed with breast and then bone cancer. My life became consumed with trying to help meet her needs and get in as much quality time with her as I could. We moved her to Kentucky to be closer to us.  I organized a surprise Christmas gathering – flying in my sister and nieces without her knowing – assuming (accurately) that it would be her last Christmas with us.  Much of my time off was spent making the eight-hour round trip drive to Lexington and doing what I could to encourage her health and healing… which she was determined to sabotage.  I was still traveling full time with World Vision/Women of Faith and things were incredibly hectic and I literally felt myself stumbling through life. Please don’t read any of that as selfless or saintly. I have to be honest and tell you that there was a lot of resentment lining the contents of my heart during that season.

This all was coming at a time when I was trying to get off the road. As much as I loved my job at World Vision and the community /friends I found at Women of Faith… I was done. Tired. Exhausted. Stick-a-fork-in-me-done. I had been voraciously job searching – looking for a place I could be just as passionate about – and a place that I could drive to and not have to fly to get there. I wanted to be home, desperately.

Then thankfully, I found Siloam.  I attempted  to transition off the road… still having to work some Women of Faith dates on weekends while starting my new “land” job (as friends called it). I started Siloam in December of 2010 (the year of mom’s last Christmas with us) but continued on with my weekend traveling schedule through the Spring of 2011. I was pulling roughly 75 hour work weeks (not including travel). All the while trying to stay connected with mom and her needs. I don’t think that makes my resentments justified but perhaps understandable. My free time was valuable… and I wanted it all to myself.  Then summer came and I thought there would be a reprieve.  But mom’s health took a downward turn and we found out her cancer had progressed to stage four when she fell and broke her hip.

mom and I

Mom and me

It was a crazy whirlwind of events… I was up for a promotion at Siloam and World Vision called to ask if I could do 10 more dates through Fall to help them out of a jam. And my mom was getting worse – and we were looking at moving her to hospice in Virginia to be near my sister. I was making trips whenever I could to clean out her apartment and visit. The day her best friend in Kentucky was putting her in a car to take her to Virginia… was also the day I was interviewing for the promotion at work. In between interviews, I was answering calls like crazy. Mom had fallen in a roadside bathroom and was being rushed to a local emergency room somewhere between Lexington and Richmond. She was incoherent and couldn’t sign release papers so I was giving verbal and faxed permission every 30 minutes when some new issue came up. Finally she was back on the road and headed east.  It was madness.

So I was hording my down-time like a pack rat getting ready for winter. I was no longer hosting parties or my famous porch nights.  I stopped attending church and declined invites to pretty much all social gatherings. I just didn’t have it in me to politely give updates on mom, my job, anything really. I just wanted to sit on my couch, enjoy a glass of wine and take in my surroundings – my home –  the place I longed to be for the last seven years of full-time traveling.  I was finally here.

Mom passed away September 15, 2011. Five days after she arrived in Virginia.

Honestly? I was relieved for her. She was in so much pain. To the point of delirium most days.  I took some time off of work (both jobs) to mourn… and honestly, I foolishly thought the recovery time would be quicker. Not to sound callus but we had been preparing for this for awhile. And part of me thought that I would just dive right back into building and fostering community among those I’d been ignoring for so long. Part of me felt ready to engage again. But apparently it was a smaller part of me than the part that wanted to stay on the couch, nurse a glass of red along with my wounds… and recoil.

Louie

My time on the road finally ended. I allowed myself a lot of “me” time. It felt awkward. A bit like I was on a first date. Getting to know myself again without all the distractions and busy-ness was a little daunting. Being alone with myself was both frightening and exhilarating.

I took a week off at Christmas and went to Virginia. We did a family-only memorial for mom on Christmas Day. The closure we all needed.  When I got back to Nashville I tried to start the “re-entry process” into community. But it didn’t work. I reserved all my energy for work and then would collapse on weekends and evenings. It quickly became evident that I needed more time.

I have a bad habit of going the all-or-nothing route… go big or go home as they say. Every time I would try to re-enter into my church community – I would sign up for this or that – thinking that would force commitment and dedication. All it did was force me to be creative with my excuses for cancelling. Yes, I probably owe an apology to many of you… as I may not have always been forthright in my reasons for backing out.  Yea – I said it.

I’m not 100% sure I’m 100% ready to give it my all out there again. Maybe I never will. I have come to enjoy my home and the little world I’ve created for myself. I have Louie, an 18lb beast of a cat that I rescued and adore and he keeps me company and busy on Instagram. There are many weekend mornings that I find myself curled up in the corner of my comfy couch as I hug my tea… look around my house and let out a deep sigh of contentment.

Home… I’m actually home.

 

 

“Dependence Day”

Stretched out on a white, braided hammock that slowly swayed the weight of from my dangling leg, I waited for, and relished in, each tiny breeze that trickled across me, desperate for relief from the close July air.  Drifting in and out of deliberate thought, I wrestled with my wandering mind, forcing my eyes to return to the pages of my book to read that last paragraph… again.

I raised my book before me and tried to make sense of its jumbled words.  That’s when it happened. Rays of orange and pink hues crept across the pages, slowly spilling down my sunburned arm, beckoning me to turn and discover its source.  Straining my neck and looking behind me, I gasped, inhaling the reds and golds that flooded my face.  Carefully, I rotated my body in the unsteady hammock, fearful of disturbing any part of this moment.  I wanted to close my eyes and bask in the warmth, yet I was being wooed to partake in this feast of lights.  Golden beams darted in and out, playing hide-and-seek behind branches of oak, racing to kiss my shoulders and nose, and then racing back to the safety of the trees again. Within moments the fiery nashvi6sun hovered just above the place where the earth meets the sky, and then slowly, silently, sunk to its nightly resting place.

I lay my head back, finally able to close my eyes.  I sighed a deep, lung-filled sigh, grateful for glimpses of such majesty.  I allowed myself the drifting this time. But a distant boom startled me awake; reminding me that 4th of July celebrations would soon begin.  I could already hear the festivities as distant sounds of sky rockets and fire crackers began filling the twilight air.  Yet carried above the man-made sounds of independence, rose voices of utter dependence.  Drowning out the sounds of those proclaiming their self-rule, were thousands of tiny earth dwellers — crickets, cicadas, throaty tree frogs, and a few creatures I couldn’t even begin to name — all lifting their praises and proclamations of their being completely dependent on their Creator and happy to belong to Someone so much bigger than they.  I listened closer to their continual rhythmic melodies.  Crescendo.  Descend. Crescendo. Descend.  Then their melodic chants would return.  I wonder if we could interpret these declarations of dependence, would it sound something like:

 “Holy, Holy, Holy

is the Lord God Almighty

who was, and is, and is to come.”

 “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under their wings.  Day and night they never stopped saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and is, and is to come.”   –Revelation 4:8

Hmmm… kinda sounds like some of the creatures I’ve seen buzzing around my backyard.

As our country stands poised, aimed and ready to celebrate their independence, I couldn’t help but think that instead, I should be celebrating and proclaiming, along with my backyard dwellers, my own utter dependence on the One who is so much bigger than me.

 

©2000 /All Rights Reserved

Standing Naked Before God and Not Worrying About My Thighs…

You know, once upon a really, really long time ago… we were strolling through a garden, naked and unashamed (Gen 2:25).

It’s how we were designed. I don’t mean we were designed to be naked… although if original sin had never entered the world I wouldn’t be spending nearly as much at Target and Old Navy. But we were designed to not feel shame or be self-conscious about our bodies. Our bodies were created for pleasure and function. Not obsession and scrutiny.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Not just because I’m on a diet. But because I started trying to get healthy again. This time it’s more about feeling good… more about health than image. Don’t get me wrong… I’m female and with that comes wanting to look good. It’s what we do. And I truly believe that it’s part of how we were created – wanting to be desired and admired. Male and female alike require this – it just manifests itself a little differently in the genders.

My point to all of this isn’t really a new subject. There are many campaigns out there that are trying to rectify our media-skewed body image dysfunctions. I appreciate that there are people like Dove who are running a Real Beauty Campaign. But the problems here, is that we are once again, letting the media tell us what is beautiful. I mean, at least they’re sort of on the right track… but if you consider yourself a follower of Christ – think about this for a moment:

We are all created in His image.  All of us. ALL. Of. Us. This fact, is one of the reasons I love traveling to strange, exotic locations. When I stood next to a woman in the Maasai Mara (see photo below) I thought about how we were both made in God’s image… I couldn’t help but think, “God! What must YOU be like?” My idea of who God is expands. He is no longer in my North American box. On most days, I think of him as a white, middle class suburbanite… but He so, so far from that it’s mind boggling.

So that said, when it’s time to focus of how I view my body and my self-image… I need to step away from the media – good or bad – and take a look at God. I need to gaze at Him awhile. And I can do that through scripture for understanding His character. But I can also look around at creation and try to find those who are the most “unlike” me… and let my idea of who He is grow. And then, and only then, can I truly accept who I am and how I am created.

Yes, I’m still on a diet. The reality is that, thanks to the fall of man, there are calories that like to plant themselves firmly around my waistline.  So in order to be healthy and to be able to be as active as I’d like to be – I must do something  to counter-act that. But I also need to not make it an idol and to not judge my value or worth based on appearance or even ability.

And when I catch myself doing that… and I will because I’m human… and female… I need to take a deep breath, step back… and gaze at our great Creator for awhile. Which is much more appealing than looking in a mirror.

desensitivity

Desensitivity really isn’t a word… but you’re gonna have to deal with it because I’m frustrated.  I don’t really like using my blog as a means of venting or being uber-negative.  But I’m about to make an exception.

Maybe it’s because I’m pissed-off frustrated at cancer. It’s wreaking havoc on my sweet mama’s body and she means the world  to me and I take this very personally. She got bad news again today, about her health. And it’s making it all real again. And then, cancer is wielding its evil sword through my friend Chris Kent’s body and making this incredibly strong, talented, vibrant man weak and in constant pain and I adore him and his family and I am not happy about this.

So I come home and flip the tv on… trying to numb my head from over-thinking for a few minutes. And I am appalled at the news. But not because there’s such bad news, which there is (the tsunami in Japan dominating the headlines). But because of the glib way that the horrific stories are being addressed (thanks Channel 4 news for 30 minutes of the tackiest news delivery I’ve seen in a long time)…

First, the all-too-familiar photos and video footage of the devastation in Japan are scrolling across the screen. Then the news desk says, let’s show you some great new technology… as they show us before and after pictures of the catastrophe. “Look, before the tsunami… neighborhoods in tact… slide the lever and after – poof… it’s gone! The destroyed neighborhood!”  Really? Poof?

On that note they transition to: “Nashvillians express concern that an earthquake will bring similar damage as to what Japan has suffered… because we have nuclear power plants, too.” Really Nashvillians? That would be one honkin’ tsunami to reach us from FLORIDA! Good filtering Channel 4… must we advertise everything Nashville thinks?

Transition to :”Today was the first time in 25 years someone has died while working on the space shuttle. An engineer fell to his death (no name or acknowledgment).  But Kennedy Space Center says the death will not affect the Endeavor’s scheduled launch.” Oh, good thing – cause I was worried for a minute that they were gonna waste time grieving and honoring the engineer’s family for his service.

Cut to a close-up of a badly taken photo of the MTSU student who was stabbed to death in her dorm Monday. No real news or updates, just mentioning again that she was stabbed and the trial will start soon. Sorry grieving family… we know you lost your daughter so tragically. We just like to keep showing her face.

I realize that none of this spin is new. I’m pretty confident that it’s affecting me so much because I’m already feeling vulnerable and shaky about my personal world around me.

So bear with my ranting… or join me. But I think we need to regain our sensitivity and not treat these things as “news” or “causes” but as tragic effects of the fall of man. And grieve accordingly.

Thoughts?

our senses

Today I had lunch with a gentleman named Ben, from Cameroon, West Africa.  He is a professor at Austin Peay University and speaks six languages.  I asked him if we could stick with English for now.

We talked about a lot of things over our Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwiches. We discussed travel and all the countries where he has lived and the fact that I was one of the first Americans that he has encountered who has been to several African countries. He said most Americans he has met have made that one trip to Africa and that’s all they needed… to say they’ve done it. He said that he was amazed that I knew Cameroon was in West Africa. (I won’t go into my frustration with our lack of knowledge of the world outside of the United States – that’s another blog entry.) He was shocked to hear that I want to return and see as much of Africa as I can. He looked at me as if I was a puzzle he couldn’t figure out. I’ve seen that look before.🙂

We discussed the idea that no matter how much you read about a country or study its topography and indigenous people….you cannot know the country until you visit. You cannot smell the country in text books. You cannot taste the country in a brochure. You cannot feel a country’s textures until you are there and run your hand across its surface. It was a beautiful conversation.

And then Ben made a statement that has resonated with me the entire day. He said that he tells his students something very similar when it comes to focusing on their studies. The ability to focus does not mean that you try to get your mind to see and concentrate on just one thing. But that you take that one thing and get all your senses to engage it. How does the object or lesson make you feel? What do you hear it saying to you? If you can’t touch it, how does it touch you? How are your senses engaged?

Anyway, just wanted to share this with you even though I’ve not come up with a conclusive hypothesis. It’s just that I am pondering how this affects the many areas of my life. My ability to focus at work, my Biblical studies, worship, my listening skills, my being present in relationships.

Does this resonate with you? Where in your life do you need/want to engage all your senses?

Hints of New Life

Now, I realize it’s only the middle of February and not even close to being Spring. But this past weekend’s warmer weather dove-tailed one of the coldest blizzardy Winters I’ve ever experienced… and it was enough to get me longing for  balmy breezes and tulips and the wild bunnies that mysteriously appear in my backyard every March.

I’m reminded of my friend William Mwizerwa from Rwanda, who when asked how he and his family got through tough times in Africa, simply replied, “We keep our eyes on eternity. On the promised land where we will one day live. On the new life we will one day have”.

I’m in no way comparing a harsh Tennessee winter to the hardships of Rwandans. But I caught myself looking for hints of Spring this morning… in hopes it would carry me through the inevitable late-March winter-blast that’s sure to renegade through Nashville at least once more… and be reassured of the new land and the new life to come.

Here is how Spring dropped a few hints my way this morning:

  • The sweet onion grass is popping up in random spots throughout my straw-like yard.
  • The squirrels are hyper… very hyper.
  • The birds were loud at 6am… very loud.
  • I got to the office 15 minutes earlier because I didn’t have to scrape snow or ice off my car.
  • There was an extra pep in my step this morning.
  • My street was dotted with joggers, dog-walkers, stroller-pushers and cyclists.
  • I did not wear a coat to work.
  • My living room was flooded with light at 7am.
  • Johnny was wearing shorts with his requisite hoodie.
  • There is a large hoot-owl’s winter nest high up in my backyard tree – which two squirrels were dismantling. There may be war on N. 16th Street very soon.
  • I saw at least six of my neighbors having coffee on their porch.
  • It is SIXTY-THREE degrees!!!!!!!!!!!!

What hints of new life are you seeing?

The Contributor

Every morning, without fail, I see him. Smiling, waving… humbly manning the corner with a yellow sign around his neck that says, “New Edition. $1.00”.

With. Out. Fail.

I’ve seen him there determined to ignore the blistering sun that leathered his face and soaked his donated t-shirt. I’ve seen him standing diligently while snow fell in haphazard piles on his tattered beanie and worn shoulders. I’ve seen him stand relentless in his makeshift rain slicker (aka a large trash bag with head and arm holes cut out – and a Kroger bag tied do-rag-style to protect his head).

I have to say… I’m really impressed.  So why did it take me until today to roll down my window and thrust a few bills in his direction? He merely leaned in through my passenger window and handed me the “new edition” and said, “Thank you ma’am… God bless you”.

“You’re welcome”, I said nice and awkwardly. “Wait! What’s you’re name?”

“Oh, um… Johnny. I mean, John. Well, okay… call me Johnny”.

“Okay Johnny. You’re doing a great job. I mean, I like seeing you here every morning. You’re pretty faithful.”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”

Johnny. I bet if I’d known his name I would have bought a paper long before today.

I’ve seen a lot of these vendors around town. But I’ve felt loyal to Johnny because he’s just at the end of my street… the corner of Eastland and 14th.  It’s a pretty good corner. The only 4-way stop in a busy avenue that feeds most of the neighborhood into the main boulevard. Johnny is a smart entrepreneur.

I guess my hesitation stemmed from some lingering skepticism that they were no different than the folks standing on the corners with “Will Work For Food” signs. Accept these guys (and gals) are already working. This is their job. And for many of them, like Johnny, who may have mental or other disabilities… they’re not finding any other options. But don’t get me started – that’s a whole other blog.

I’m actually enjoying the paper. According to an article in The Contributor the folks standing on corners with papers are vendors.  They purchase the newspapers for .25 cents each and sell them for $1.00. They’re allowed to keep all proceeds plus tips. So, yes… please tip.

Anyway, if you have one of these vendors in your neighborhood… please take a moment and a few dollars and help employ someone who has otherwise been deemed unemployable. And ask their name. Knowing their name will make all the difference.