a present-over-perfect practice

words and reflections from 12.31.16:

***

It’s a quiet New Year’s Eve in our home. We are tired from long travels back from SC, and the inevitable letdown that comes post-Christmas. In the quiet of reflection tonight, I am choosing to believe that as 2016 closes and 2017 dawns, God will be faithful, kind, and loving, even to me – who can be ungrateful, unkind, ungenerous, way too stubborn for my own good, and fearful. I’ve chased a lot of perfection and dreams in 2016, and from the outside looking in (or what you’d see and what I posted on social media), it looked pretty good. But part of what I’ve missed in that pursuit is real connection with friends and family. So for 2017 … I’m praying for God’s grace to show up through less trying-to-act-perfect and more real-life-community. Through less idealizing and more getting into the nitty-gritty work of forgiveness, love, kindness, courage, and faith. Amen?

***

 

because we need hope, peace, & comfort

I have been writing and thinking and praying a lot about hope this fall. There are many reasons I crave hope this season. Like the headlines flashing across our screens and calling to us from the morning paper, and the usual stress of trying to balance home, church, and family life. (And our family’s life now includes our twin daughters going to kindergarten full-day. Despite the great school they attend, it’s been an adjustment for all of us!)

We have also experienced waves of greater-than-usual overwhelming circumstances in our lives and in the lives of our family and friends. Like a hurricane that “breezed” through (pun intended) and left a ton of chaos in its wake;  friends who’ve had miscarriages; a friend battling leukemia; extended family health issues requiring more care from my husband and me; the death just last week of my great-aunt Julie; and a bit more travel than usual for me this fall.

As I’ve tried to take stolen moments along the way to pause, be still, and know that God is God (Psalm 46), I feel how much I need comfort for my own heart. Not only does chaos swirl without, it also rises up from within. I need a peace that’s bigger than the messages I feel bombarded with and *wish* worked, but just haven’t – like “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “look for the rainbow after the storm.” While I’m all about the rainbow and the strength needed to keep moving, I need something that lasts as long as the storm.

And the only thing I’ve found that can outlast the storm is the hope of a God who is there. A Jesus who meets us in the storm, and then rides it out with us. As I spoke to a group of beautiful women, including many family and friends, at my aunt and uncle’s church in Columbia, South Carolina, last week, I was praying hope over their hearts, and I spoke the words I myself need to hear – a few of which I’ll share below. May your heart be encouraged as well … in all the places where you find yourself in need of hope, peace, and comfort today. 

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when anxiety overwhelms: a mother’s tale of Hurricane Matthew

It was a mother’s worst-case-scenario. My  husband and I had finally made time for a much needed one-night retreat away from it all. Our children were staying with their beloved grandparents; we would be gone for a total of  24 hours, barely a few hours away. We disconnected from internet and cell phone signal was spotty. God met us right where we needed it, and when it was time to leave the next afternoon, we were aware of fresh winds of the Spirit breathing life into our hearts and our relationship.

But then there was Hurricane Matthew. We had assumed we were safe – that it was turning away from us.

Imagine our dismay when we had driven only a few feet and were practically floating through an unexpected flash flood – and this was in our SUV! We quickly switched into panic mode. For us, that meant my husband went super-calm and quiet, and I wanted to talk about it all. [We both quickly realized that this wasn’t working: lessons learned in a decade of marriage – and yes, you’re welcome.] Our focus was that we had to get home to our kids. We must. There was no other option.

One-and-a-half hours later, the situation was deteriorating quickly. More unexpected huge puddles on the road. When I checked the satellite radar, it showed us tracking right along with Hurricane Matthew’s new and unexpected path. Evening was falling and flash flood warnings were increasing.

We finally gave up and found a hotel that wasn’t yet full in which to stay. Then we had to call the grandparents and the kiddos and try to act brave and calm about the decision that had my mother’s heart trembling: we couldn’t make it back before bedtime as planned, and we were going to try again in the morning as long as Hurricane Matthew allowed.

Needless to say, it was a long night.

As we surveyed the damage the next morning, we decided that we were going to risk it and try to head back to our “babies.” So we did. And God used the prayers of many to clear a path for us back home. It was a joyous reunion and a relief to give and receive hugs, laughter, tears.

And there’s a picture there, right? How anxious I am! How anxious we are collectively as a culture/nation right now!

We look around us and want to be anywhere but *here* – whether that’s the dark side of a cancer diagnosis, the turmoil of parenting challenges, a hurricane that’s wreaking havoc in your community, on the eve of a presidential election that has us all twisted in knots inside, in the midst of racial tension, stuck in a hard family relationship, etc. We want relief. We want a way out, or a promise that we’ll make it through. Or, even better, our people with whom to ride out the storms of life – literal and metaphorical. 

We have One. He fought his way through the depths of hell itself to be with us. It was costly [he died] – but miraculous [God raised him to life]. And it’s the only Hope I know that’s so sure and secure it is called, “an anchor of the soul.”

When the storms of life hit (perhaps literally), where do you turn? How have you known the peace of Jesus even in the very middle of the very worst troubles in your life? 

Real hope for troubled times: Jesus knows

I woke up this morning to all the alerts: not only my own alarm, but warnings about flash flooding and plans rearranged and then the burden of these headlines:

  • Another shooting and more riots in Charlotte, NC – Lord, when will this end? Heal us, Father. We pray for justice to prevail  – for healing that is as real and as deep as the racial brokenness of our country. Give us ears to listen to one another in order to understand, not to judge. Break down all of our defenses through the strength of Love
  • More info on the terrorist suspected of massive plots in NYC and NJ – Father, I’m afraid. It could be our neighborhood next – or our mall. 
  • An apparently failed ceasefire in Syria – there was an attack on the aid convoy. – Lord, for all of those who need aid and help desperately, find a way. Give courage to the men and women risking their lives to deliver this aid. Let us who live comfortable Western lives not grow numb. Show us how we can help our neighbor, though that neighbor be halfway around the world, and keep us from being blind to the neighbor living next door to us or down the street from us. 

This list could go on and on. And our response (or at least mine) is to feel the fear like a pit in my stomach and the instant tension in my shoulders. I want to find a refuge to run to with my family where no harm can touch us, and where we can bring everyone else who needs help with us, too.

I’m not alone in this desire. And there is a refuge promised One Day. Because of this Future Hope, we take comfort in Jesus’ words from over 2000 years ago, and we can serve for justice and peace now.

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I want to read the promises side-by-side with the headlines. Jesus brings perspective and best of all – his presence in the promised Holy Spirit to all who find refuge by faith in Jesus.

Because of Jesus’ Presence, I can take a deep breath, go downstairs and hug my children and cook breakfast and serve in my little corner of the world.

Because of Jesus’ Presence, I can be fully involved in the here-and-now while also seeking how I can be part of the global concerns because they affect fellow human beings worthy of dignity since they’re made imago Dei.

Where do you take refuge in these troubled times? How do you balance the reality of the here-and-now demands on your life with the global concerns impacting us? 

 

 

Stories of shame: part 7/the shame spiral

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{Part 7 of a 10-part series entitled, “stories of shame.” Read the rest here.}

I knew the risks for a recovering people-pleaser in publishing a book. And a book about shame of all topics. I wrote about it in the final paragraph of Unashamed:

This book is a fruit of my own journey away from shame into the freedom of being clothed in Christ’s beauty. I am a people-pleaser by nature and practice, and writing publicly terrifies me because of the fear of criticism and judgment. I want my words to be beautiful and perfect. And yet – like every other part of my life – they won’t be and they cannot be. It is in offering my imperfect thoughts that I am practicing my freedom. It is in offering some of my failures and imperfect portions of my story that I hope to encourage you to do the same. Above all else, it is my unshakeable hope in the power of Jesus Christ to heal shame at its source that emboldens me to risk. For if you begin to taste the freedom of the unashamed in even one relationship, it becomes a seed that can transform your community. We need more neighborhoods, churches, homes, and workplaces where we live unashamed and give others space to live unashamed as well. Let’s be part of the movement away from shame into freedom, honor, and glory.

As in so much of life, nothing can prepare you for what will be hardest ahead of you in your journey – even if you can see it coming, know it’s there, and have walked through something similar in the past. When I stumbled upon a couple less-than-stellar reviews in the past few weeks, I went into a bit of a shame spiral.

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photo from Unsplash

  • I froze up initially. Meaning I physically froze. Time stopped. My morbid curiosity meant that I kept reading even when I knew it was a negative review. In that moment, everything else faded.

Curt Thompson in The Soul of Shame  describes the neurophysiological impact of experiencing shame: “…although the description of our experience of shame is often couched in words, its essence is first felt. Though I may say, ‘I should have been better at that’ or ‘I’m not good enough,’ the power of those moments lies in our emotional response to the evoking stimulus, be that a comment, a glance, or recollection of that day in third grade when your teacher pointed out in front of the rest of the class that you weren’t that bright. … A deep sense of self-consciousness emerges; cognition becomes fuzzy as our thoughts are disabled; words may be hard to find …; and the mind becomes caught in a vortex of images, sensations and thoughts that recycle and feed on each other at light speed, reinforcing the experience.” (pp. 24, 66)

  • I assumed my worst fears were realized. The mental soundtrack was like this: I’m a first-time author who doesn’t know what she’s talking about; I wasn’t honest/vulnerable enough in my book; I was too honest and vulnerable to be helpful; I’m not addressing a biblically nuanced view of shame.  And the list goes on from there.
  • I wanted to isolate and withdraw from community and relationship. Spending a day at home alone in my pjs became my definition of paradise.

Here’s the beautiful interruption to this shame spiral: It stopped there. I did something brave and risky – what I encourage my readers to do when experiencing shame: I talked about it. I started with my safest people: God, then my husband, and an email to a few close friends asking for their perspective.

What I didn’t do was to keep on reading and re-reading and analyzing the negative reviews. (I wanted to!) I shifted my focus. There was laundry to be done, so I threw myself into that task. I organized some long-unorganized corners of our home. I went for a walk. I read a good book. I played with my kids and read stories to them. I needed to shift my focus away from the shame to the many, many good gifts in my daily life that God’s given me. This helped tremendously.

Then, I took a bigger risk. I shared these experiences with a group of women who I trusted to be empathetic, truth-giving, and compassionate. I shared about the negative reviews in general terms. These women’s response brought even more healing. It wasn’t just what they said, but it was also the way they said it. They leaned in, listened closely, looked at me while they affirmed and encouraged God’s gift and calling he’s given to me of writing. One woman said, “I think that’s really brave of you to write – I couldn’t ever do it!” (And I would say the same thing about her in what she’s been facing lately in her life.)

And isn’t that the beauty of the community of Christ? We offer space, words, respect, affirmation, prayers, and “Jesus with skin on” to one another.

My final step for today is to write this post and to keep living my life with freedom and grace. To “stay in my lane” as Brené Brown says, referring to staying in your own lane when swimming in a race. She uses this phrase to remind us to focus on our path, our next steps, what’s ahead of us and in our lives, instead of anxiously looking around and/or getting worried that we’re not “swimming” [or working, writing, parenting, praying, cleaning, counseling, praying, etc] as well as the person next to us.

And Brown wasn’t the first one (although she is the most recent) to talk about focusing on running the race set before us. The author of Hebrews spoke about in decades ago when encouraging the new church:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 

Hebrews 12:1-3

What about you? How do you know you’re in a shame spiral, and what helps you to get out of it? 

 

 

when your friend has leukemia

I first met Jen at Myrtle Beach when we were part of a college ministry summer project. She was as joy-filled and gracious then as she has proved to be in the 18 years since. We later were roommates while we were both at seminary. She was a co-conspirator with my husband when we got engaged, leading me into New York City despite my initial resistance and saving my engagement pictures from the gaudy St-Patricks-Day-themed outfit I’d first chosen. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding. We were in Philadelphia for several years together. And then she got married, and they moved to a farm in New Hampshire to pursue their dream when Seth and I moved to Virginia. We were pregnant with our first babies at the same time, their due dates only days apart. After years of living states apart with sporadic phone calls and emails to connect us, reconnecting in person last year was as if no time had passed. When we caught up over lunch, she listened empathetically as I spilled out my heart that was on the verge of burnout. Just like she always does.

Then cancer came along into this beautiful mother-of-three-kids’ life. A diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia in March. It came out of the blue, one of those fear-inducing stories of going to the doctor because her back hurt and finding out that in fact the major problem were the bruises that didn’t go away. She pursued treatment, and it seemed to be working well until an unexpected turn into blast phase happened a few months ago.

Today she undergoes a bone marrow transplant thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor. (Did you know that you, too, could register to help another in this way? Go to “Be the Match” for more information.)  And the many, many of us who love her are praying for her today, day 0 as it’s termed in the transplant world, that this would be the rebirth of new, healed blood cells for this friend.

If you’re reading this, and you want to join along, we would all be honored if you lifted her up and asked for healing with us.

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Easter morning

{a repost from 2014}

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“Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing that you can be born again!” That melody floats through my head this morning. The melody that drew me into salvation as a child of 4-years-old who inquired what it meant to be born again, and then was … Keith Green’s invitation set to music.

Another phrase that seems to capture what Easter means for me this year, today:

Be free and have fun!

I overheard these words spoken by a grandmother sending her grandson off to play at a park a few weeks ago. And they have reverberated through my mind and heart ever since. Not only as such a good (different) parenting focus, but the words I need to hear from a resurrected Jesus this morning, every morning.

Easter means I am free and so are you who are united to Jesus by faith. Free from sin, free from slavery to the effects of my sin and others’, free from anxiety and worry, free from performance on the treadmill of perfection, free from my past and my failings, free from others’ judgments or opinions, free to say “no” to doing too much, free to love – to serve wholeheartedly – to create.

Free to have fun in the truest sense of fun. To be creative, to delight in a world that can be as delightful as it is broken.  To have fun with my daughters and not only be a disciplinarian. To have fun with my husband and in so doing make both of our loads lighter. To take myself more lightly and laugh a little easier. To have fun doing what I don’t give myself permission to do in my quest for achievement and success: to have fun painting, reading novels, blogging, sharing a cup of coffee with a close friend, making life and our home beautiful.

What about you? What could it mean to live in the light of Easter morning? Of the empty tomb calling out to you – “be free! and have fun!”? Where are you still living under the weight of “Silent Saturday”? Of the agony of Good Friday?

Three posts I recommend for your perusal. “We are the Sunday morning people” by Lisa-Jo Baker, “Woman, Why?” at (in)courage, and “We Need All the Days of Holy Week” at Grace Covers Me.

Enjoy … be free … have fun! The tomb is empty; Jesus our Lord is risen; death has lost its darkness and sin has lost its power. 

Noticing Goodness

A few weeks ago I spoke at a local MOPS group (Mothers Of PreSchoolers). And one thing that really struck me was their themes for the year: “Noticing Goodness” being my favorite. Doesn’t simply that phrase refocus your thoughts today?  What I love about noticing goodness is that it means: 1/there is always goodness to see and 2/goodness needs to be noticed, some moments more than others. 

As a counselor and the author of a book on shame, I’ve trudged through some dark places in the past decade – both in my own heart and in the lives of others. In some ways, I’ve trained myself to notice the struggles in life – the places where someone is lonely, isolated, stuck. And I’ve been invited into these dark corners, to be part of the redemption of our God, leading us into places of light and beauty once again. I’m realizing anew that even here – especially here – there is goodness to be noticed. Not in a fake cliche type of way, because that backfires, but in a real way that seeks out the treasures found nowhere else but in darkness. 

Were it not for the winter’s doldrums, spring wouldn’t be so sweet – so life-giving. 

Without depression, it’s all too easy to take emotional health for granted. 

The hardest, most baffling parts of the story are where character is forged, perseverance is developed, steely hope emerges, and compassionate empathy grows. 

My shame stories give me the ability to connect with you authentically. (And even write a book about it.)

And then there are the thousands of small beautiful moments waiting to be noticed in our daily lives:

  • Pink and purple glory bookending each day through sunrise and sunset
  • The taste of a perfectly ripened sweet berry
  • A moment of calm in between the stress of a busy day
  • Music!
  • My kids’ excitement for new experiences and skills gained
  • Unexpected kindness
  • Humor
  • Witnessing a friend’s resilience through hard circumstances
  • Art created 
  • A blank page
  • Words that make your heart sing
  • A good story
  • A refreshing walk/run/yoga session

What goodness will you notice today? I’d love to hear about it! 

  

when you break Lent (and it breaks you)

This is a post from three years ago, and it’s worth reposting. Because it’s just as true for me now as it was then. The only difference is that my Lenten fast is much smaller now – but it’s still more than what I can do on my own strength!

I offer this as an encouragement to look up and out to Jesus. He is our hope, and He is the whole point of Lent. It’s the journey to the cross.

***

Lent.

The period of 40 weekdays that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence.

I chose what I thought would be four hard but do-able items for my Lenten fast this year. Call me an overachiever, or more accurately, an over-estimator of my own strength. A month ago I posted about my hopes for Lent. How hard could it really be? And how refreshing and empowering could it be! In taking away many of my heart’s distractions – phone apps, Target, sweets, t.v. – I assumed that God would replace my heart’s misplaced affections with a renewed love for Christ and the people around me.

About three weeks in, I broke Lent. Fully and completely. Not just one day, but I think it was about every day of the week and I broke every single “fast” multiple times. I rationalized why for each of them.

  • Going to Target will help me stick to our family budget on some key grocery items like Kashi cereal and goldfish.
  • “Non-essential” phone app category expanded dramatically. I started Lent with 6 icons on my home screen that I deemed “non-essential.” I’m ending Lent with twice as many.
  • Television is the only way that my husband and I can really share down time together after busy days in the midst of a busy week
  • I really just “need” a quick pick-me-up. Nothing like a bite of chocolate to do that.

My response to breaking Lent? First, my typical pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps approach: “Just try harder, Heather. Get it together. You can do it!” As this failed, I descended to self-blame, punishment, guilt and shame. “This is really not that hard. There are millions of people in the world who LIVE without these things daily, and you can’t just go without for 40 days?? What is wrong with YOU?” That also got me nowhere fast.

And then I realized that maybe this is the real purpose of Lent. To reveal (again) that I cannot fulfill the Law. Any law – of God’s eternally perfect law, other people’s expectations, or my own standards. Maybe Lent is meant to show me how little I can do in my own strength, and therefore how MUCH I need Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection that we celebrate at Easter. Truth echoed in these verses from Romans 3:19-20 –

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Breaking Lent is one way that the law breaks me. It’s a beautiful breaking, for it leads me to the One who restores and makes new. If I didn’t practice a Lenten fast this year, I would be that much less aware of my helplessness to gain eternal life and a relationship with God on my own strength or efforts. And so, in an upside-down backwards way, breaking Lent has broken me of trying and pointed me in desperate hope to Jesus whose death we remember this week and whose life we celebrate next Sunday. Listen to this hope found in Romans 5:6 and 21 –

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. … so that … grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we round the final corner of Lent, walking into Holy Week’s somber reflections, let us remember that we cannot earn Easter on our own merit. Our best trying leaves us hopeless. Let us fall in our weariness and allow Jesus to pick us up and bring us with Him to the cross and then the hope of the empty tomb this week and always.

a farewell meditation to 2015

Today is bittersweet.

Tomorrow the calendar turns to a new year, leaving this one behind us.

May we hold close the moments of 2015 where you, God, showed up in new and perhaps surprising ways.

May we let go of all that we can and should and need to as we relinquish our failures, disappointments, sins – and those of others.

May we hold dear the ones who were born to us this year.

And may we cherish the memory of those we said good-bye to this year, the tears leading the way down our pathways of grief – a pathway that leads to the heart of God who weeps with and for his people.

Our hearts can be at rest as we look backward and as we seek what’s next because our hearts rest in the Faithful God, unchanging from age to age. 

Herein lies our hope for 2016’s horizon dawning a bit brighter than that of 2015.

Herein lies our hope that if 2016 feels markedly bleaker and darker than 2015, we will not be lost. For Jesus never loses his sheep, and he carries us close to his heart.

Happiest of New Years to you, readers!