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.

 

 

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.

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?

Grounded…

It’s Sunday morning and I’m writing this from my cozy green couch. If you know me, you know how significant a statement that is… considering the crazy travel schedule I’ve had the last 6 years.

Last Saturday, I grabbed a last minute lunch with a couple of friends at the Grilled Cheeserie truck that comes to East Nashville on weekends. We were sitting there slurping our gooey cheesey sandwiches when my friend Duane stopped mid-bite and said, “Wait! It’s Saturday! And I’m eating lunch with Debbie Barnett!” It’s a very good thing.

The number one question people are asking me is, “Are you going to miss traveling?”

Yes and no. What I love about traveling is discovering new places, seeing a world of people out there who are just like me and who are very different than me. Experiencing different cultures within our own country is fascinating. We Americans are such an eclectic people! More than anything, I love traveling abroad. It helps me see that this world is both awfully huge and quite small. The vastness of this world becomes evident when you climb on a plane in an all-familiar Nashville, TN  and some 18 hours later you step off into some wild, untamed place like Addis Abba, Ethiopia. But it’s that very thing that makes the world seem so small… because it’s all so attainable.

Anyway, that part of travel I will miss. But here’s a list of what I WON’T miss:

  • being stranded in yet another airport due to delays, cancellations weather and incompetence.
  • being lovingly frisked by TSA agents every few days
  • having constant jet-lag and a body that has no idea what time zone its in
  • swollen ankles & fingers from being 35,000 feet in the air several times a week
  • missing yet another friend’s wedding, birthday, dinner party, graduation, etc
  • feeling like a visitor in my own church
  • conversations back home that always with, “I haven’t seen you in forever!”

And here’s a few things I’ve discovered that I LOVE about being grounded (or not traveling for a living):

  • having a regular sleeping pattern
  • being home on weekends when everyone else is off work as well
  • my mailman now recognizes me and waves
  • not eating “out” for every meal and getting to cook more
  • being able to say “yes” to invitations
  • my plants don’t die
  • discovering the meaning to “Thank God It’s Friday”
  • not having to “catch up” with close friends because we stay caught up.

Don’t get me wrong… I loved what I was doing these last 6 years and see it as such a gift. But suffice it to say… I’m loving the adjustment and thank God every day for the amazing life He has given me.  But I’m happy for the change and ready to embrace a new way of of living it for now. And who knows what the future holds? But I know that He holds me… so I will just hang on and enjoy the ride.

The Glass is Half.

During an interview, Bishop Lesslie Newbigin was asked, “Would you say you’re a pessimist or an optimist?”  He replied, “I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist.  Christ raised from the dead!”

Really? That’s your answer?

My pastor quoted this in church last night and it got me thinking. Over the years I’ve been posed with the same question.  In job interviews, small group ice breakers, dinner table queries, you name it.

For most of my life, I’ve have been called an optimist.  I’ve even been called Pollyanna on occasion. Polly for short.

But over the last 10 years or so, I’ve seen enough hurt and injustice in this world; have personally been taken advantage of enough times; and have watched too many people I love find themselves scarred from the shrapnel of shattered dreams… that my rose colored glasses have fogged over and are really more of a grayish hue now.

Not to sound dramatic, though I’m good at that, but these tragic and seemingly hopeless situations have shaken my faith at times and caused me to question what I believed, and why I believed it.

It’s taken some time to attune my perspective. And honestly, if I were not a follower of Jesus and had my life not been rescued and renewed by the Spirit of the One who created me… I would simply throw my hands in the air and adopt the title of Queen Pessimist.

But as a believer there’s really only one answer to the question of whether I should be pessimistic or optimistic. The answer is, as Bishop Lesslie Newbigin said, “Neither”.

To be a total Pessimist would mean I’m blinded to hope because the disparity right in front of me has so has blackened my vision to see beyond the now. To be a total optimist means I chose to ignore any negative thought toward the future regardless of how dismal things are currently. The problem with this view is that I am not responding appropriately to what’s in front of me, perhaps burying my head while waiting in anticipation for what I believe is still to come.  But ignoring or being in denial of the negative in front of me renders me ineffective to being a conduit of renewal… right now.

How do I reconcile all of that? By learning to live in the now and the not yet. By being brave and broken, all at once. By willingly entering into someone’s pain because I know it won’t destroy me. When I know I am loved by the God of all grace, and I live in this world as if I really believe it… I can do nothing other than bring healing, reconciliation, new life and hope wherever I go.

So,I’m neither optimist nor pessimist… because Christ came, He died and He rose again. ‘Nuff said.

Psalm 16:8
I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

a little too personal…

Being a believer and follower of Christ… I have come to terms with the fact that, for now, we live in a broken and fallen world. I don’t like it, but I know that “It is what it is” (to quote my friend Bone Hampton – he says this phrase almost never follows anything good).  But because my hope is in Christ and I know that this life and these circumstances are temporary – I wait. And I hope. And I wait.

But every once in awhile. I struggle. Not with doubt, but with patience. With not understanding why earthly restoration is taking… so… stinking… long. “Why Lord, why must You delay your coming back? Why must we wait any longer for You to make all things new and right again?”

Mostly I get like this when the brokenness hits close to home. Because my occupation is one that deals with some of the most broken places and people in the world… it’s important that I learn to sit in the “now and the not yet”. Reconciling current reality with a hope for the future. But I have to admit… this is easier when I don’t have a personal relationship with those who are suffering. I am moved by their photos, their stories, their pleas. But I am not usually undone by them.

But then things hit closer to home. Suddenly friends and family are in the fire. And I don’t like it. Not one bit.

I’m a fixer by nature. And when things are beyond my scope of abilities… I’m not happy. Arrogant, I know. And I’m especially frustrated when I am “reduced” to faith and praying. I say “reduced” in quotes because I know that faith and praying are elevated callings and are by no means considered a reduction. But my sinful nature wreaks havoc on my perspective… and I feel reduced. Oh yea, John 3:30 says “He must increase, and I must decrease.” I often (conveniently) forget that verse.

These last 2 weeks have weighed heavily on my heart. Many of the people I care very much for… have been suffering. And there’s nothing I can do about it. And my ugly arrogant pride rises up and wants to take action. But I’m learning to die to that. Learning to decrease so He will increase. It’s a life-long process, I’m afraid.

Here are some of the people I am praying for if you want to join me – though, I totally understand if you already have your own overwhelming list.

  • Two young teens who I used to tutor just lost their sweet mama, Gwen, to a heart attack this past Sunday. They bury her tonight. Gwen was also an Aunt to one of the other students I tutored.
  • Another friend called me to tell me that her dad was just diagnosed with cancer.
  • Another friend’s mom passed away last week from Scleroderma.  He buries her tomorrow.
  • My own mother called to tell me her “numbers” are bad again. She has Stage 4 Bone Cancer.
  • Another friend who has cancer was told he should have those final conversations with his wife and family.
  • My oldest niece has been in and out of the hospital due to an ulcer and chest pains. She’s 23.
  • Another friend’s marriage ended.
  • And yet another friend recently gave birth to a still born.

This has all happened, roughly, in the last 10 days or so. It’s easy for me to wallow in the chaos of broken places. To dwell my thoughts in places that are dark, and even add to their darkness by obstructing the truth of hope. This can happen when I find comfort in self-pity or delight in drama.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not getting all Pollyanna on you. I’m not suggesting that I, or anyone else, deny the feelings of the pain of our own or each others’ hard places. We are to “bear one anothers’ burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Bear… as in carry, feel, assist… and that can be wearisome for both parties. But, when we are strong enough again, it’s important to help point ourselves and each other toward the cross. Toward Christ Himself. Remember friend?  Remember self?  This is why He did what He did. He has absorbed the punishment and provided life when and where we could not.

So all that to say… I have caught myself being a little overwhelmed with sorrow and concern this week… and rightfully so. I mean, there seems to have been a land-swell of brokenness in the lives of people I care about.  Topped by my normal occupation which requires a passion for people I’ve never met…  it can be quite an emotional flood.

And my reason for blogging all this is simply to remind myself that God is on His throne… and sometimes that’s all I need to know.

Thanks for praying with me.

-Deb