When the funhouse isn’t fun anymore

For me, autumn brings to mind all things pumpkin flavored, brightly colored falling leaves, and a host of festivals and fairs to cater to your tastebuds and tempt your pocketbook for the chance of winning some ridiculous human sized stuffed animal.

I remember as a kid getting lost in a maze of funhouse mirrors. It was delightful and entertaining in the beginning. Look at one reflection and you’re tall and skinny, the next one you have fat feet and a little head, and on and on with playful distortions. Until it didn’t seem so playful or fun anymore because you realize you’re lost and all you can see are the malformations surrounding you.

Recently I have been realizing more and more that the reflections I see of myself are distortions, and I feel completely surrounded. It’s no longer any fun because somehow those contorted images became my view of reality.

In conversation with those close to me, I hear their words and find that we view very different images of me. The person they would describe, I am at a loss for how to see.

I want to argue and prove my point. In my mind I am listing all the reasons why their point of view and words cannot be true.

But slowly these last few days I have realized that I am in the midst of a giant, winding maze of misrepresentation. I have lost myself in it for years, this labyrinth of lies concerning who I am as a person: unworthy, unlovely, undesirable, the list goes on and on. I’m realizing the horror in it, the knowledge that this is really how I have come to see myself, and how I expect others to see.

The funhouse mirrors of my mind aren’t fun and entertaining anymore. I want out. Does anyone know which way to the exit?

 

Children Can Be Dangerous

“You know what’s funny?”

“What’s that?”

“You’re much older than I am, but I can swim much better than you can.”

If it wasn’t for those soulfully sweet and innocent eyes that have locked their gaze with mine, I would be more upset, but there is nothing malicious or taunting in the words, just an observation from my young friend.

Children are dangerous that way. They can be brutally honest, in the most disarming of ways.

He knows the water frightens me, and it never ceases to amaze me how sensitive and caring he can be. Numerous times this summer, he has come to the edge of the pool with his sword and declared himself to be my protector, which though maybe make believe, I am totally convinced.

Then there was the day he talked me into one of those holding your breath challenges. I went under for a whole two seconds, after I had just held him under for like 40 or something. I was hoping it would get me out of the game when he realized how lame I truly am in comparison, instead he turned to me with all seriousness and said, “I’m sure you can do longer than two. Maybe you can even get to ten.”

Who can argue? That day I held myself underwater for 24 seconds, voluntarily, because a ten year old believed I could.

Spending time with children is dangerous, I tell you.

“People wish to learn to swim and at the same time to keep one foot on the ground.” -Marcel Proust

Therein lies the problem with learning to swim, it requires letting go and trusting.

{insert Frozen sing-a-long soundtrack here}

I am well aware of the terror beating in my heart and racing through my brain, which I feel I am completely unable to control or to tame. It crowds out any logical thought processes and shutters out any hope of change. It has been my companion for decades.

Then a child with knowing eyes, looks at me and says, “Come on. Follow me,” as he swims for the deep end of the pool in search of sea creatures to explore and be rescued from.

Children can be dangerous that way. They are persuasively charming when they invite you into their world, a place where anything is possible.

And against all the fear-filled judgement of my situation, I think, “Yeah, just maybe it really is possible.”

 

 

 

Cut It Out

For several months I have been staring at the rosemary bush in our backyard. It has perplexed and irked me despite my love for its aromatic and flavorful offerings.

Said bush has had a huge brown, dead spot that has bothered me from day one. It is not just on an edge, sort of out of sight.  No, this spot  is smack dab in the middle of the plant and impossible to ignore.

We live in the midst of a state facing a severe drought so it seems unlikely the bush is facing root rot. Regardless, root rot or infection, the only advice I’ve been able to find online is to prune it and get rid of the dead branches.

So this morning, with cooler temperatures hinting at autumn, I set out to remove the eye sore.

Finally, I simply had to walk away. The job half-finished. My hands cramped and blistered. While the rosemary bush, significantly less brown, now stands with a gaping hole, evidence that something was once there and has been forcefully removed.

Pruning isn’t fun, but it is necessary for the life of the plant. 

Sometimes branches have to be cut out of our lives because they are dead or diseased. It hurts. I mean, it never feels good to have some part cut away. Even when it isn’t doing us any good, we get attached to those branches.

But, I also realized that sometimes pruning hurts the gardener too. I walked away with blisters from the tools and sore muscles from the work. I am not upset about the work or the price I physically paid, but it is just a seeing and knowing that it cost me something too in this process.

And then, there’s the gaping hole.

Part of pruning’s purpose is to make way for new life and the ability to be more fruitful, but looking at so many dead branches and what seems like such a large hole makes it seem a lot less convincing.

Or maybe it’s just the realization that then, after the pruning, comes the waiting.

Waiting for the growth to happen. Waiting for the new life to appear from what now seems dead.

Waiting.

It isn’t my favorite task.

While waiting, there’s just this empty space that’s clearly visible. A place where you know life once was, but now it is just empty.

It cannot easily be hidden, and at this moment, today, there is no making it nice and neat and beautiful.

That feels an awful lot like life right now, and I’m trying to be okay with that.

 

The “Oh, It’s Easy” Lie

I lied last week.

A friend asked how I could pack my life into a single suitcase and move across the country.

My response was something like, “Oh, it’s easy. It’s not like I have to worry about furniture and stuff.”

But it isn’t easy, and after six years filled with more goodbyes than can be counted, I’m convinced that it actually never becomes easy.

I said “see ya later” to friends last week and went home to pack and cry. Some of those have known me over half my life, and others unexpectedly became friends over the past year, and each person holds a special place in my heart.

I held my cat, and cried some more (because my cat is pretty much also a person and was giving me the “I know you’re leaving me” look).

And as I dealt with frustrating travel complications due to NC’s crazy weather patterns, I wanted to curl up in a corner, renounce my adulthood, and just cry some more.

It wasn’t because I’m not excited to be in California or that I’m not looking forward to what the future may hold, it’s just the simple fact that leaving is hard.

And I think if we are doing life right, then it probably should be. It doesn’t seem to me like we should be able to easily just walk away from relationships.

But, really, I’m thankful that it’s a difficult process. Not because I like difficulty, but because it shows that there are a lot of people in my life that I care about and that I know care about me. That’s something that many people don’t have, and would give anything for.

So to everyone I’ve had to say “See You Later” to, thank you for making it hard to leave. Your love and friendship are priceless and not forgotten, even when I don’t voice it as often as I should.

Sunrise and Hope

Two Sundays ago, I was up and on the road before the sun. I was sleepy, desperately in need of coffee, and slightly terrified of what the morning may hold. Walking into places where I don’t know a soul and anticipating that I will have to stand on a platform and speak are the sort of moments my nightmares are made of, and that is precisely what I knew awaited me.

Driving out of Georgia, there was a chill in the air and dark clouds hanging in the sky. Continuing my journey up the interstate, there was a glimmer of light in the distance on the horizon and I knew that daybreak would come soon. I chased that hope of sunshine for a while longer, and it was a beautiful sight as light broke through the dark and covered the sky in color.

Much like hope.

Our world is filled with hopelessness. We can see it in the news we read, and when we are honest, we can see it in the faces of people we meet. And sometime, we find ourselves staring down the barrel of what looks like a hopeless situation. It’s like traveling in the dark when you’re exhausted and feeling certain that nothing good could possibly be ahead.

Today’s popular culture definition for is one of whimsy and fluff, a desire or a feeling, simply wishful thinking. When I looked up the definition in the online version of Merriam-Webster dictionary it actually lists trust and expecting with confidence as definitions, but points out that those terms are “archaic”. I think that just shows that our world has lost so much hope that we have had to change the popular definition.

As Christians, the difference for us is that our hope is sure.  It is not archaic to expect with confidence whatever God has promised. He is hope, and we are carriers of that hope. Or we should be.

Romans 12:12  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Romans 15:13  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Of all people, we should be the ones rejoicing and abounding in hope as we abide in the God of hope, and the world is desperately grappling for some hope to cling to. We also can be patient in difficult times because of this hope, our guarantee.

Leaving Georgia that morning was dark and a bit cold, and with little sleep and no coffee, sunrise definitely seemed far away. The gathering, thick clouds in the sky looked as if it was just going to be a dark, sunless day. Eventually the clouds did give way to sun (and I did locate coffee), though even if it had been a cloudy day, we know that the sun was still shining regardless of my ability to see it in all of its glory.

Maybe you know someone facing a hopeless situation, or someone who just can’t see the hope. Maybe that someone is even you. Just like the sun is shining even if the clouds are blocking our view, God is hope and He is trustworthy even when all of our life circumstances seem to shout a different story in our ears.

There IS still hope.

Hanging By A Moment

Last week I was sitting in the living room with my mom when there was suddenly a loud crash with a lot of spitting and hissing. At first, we thought the fur babies had simply knocked something over, but since the sound continued a moment later I knew something was very wrong.

We ran into the next room to find that curiosity almost killed my cat. He had somehow wrapped himself in the cords to the curtains and blinds and was literally hanging, twisting, turning and clawing for his life to get out of it.

There was no time for concern of my safety, it was all about saving Speedy. So I reached out to scoop him up so the cords would loosen. The poor baby was frightened, of course, and not realizing he was safe continued to claw his way out. Translation: My hand and arm suffered some painful consequences for helping Speedy escape.

I’m happy to say that he is fine, though, to my dismay, still all too curious. Thankfully I live in the country because my blinds are now permanently open as the cords are tucked away from kitty paws.

Besides scaring me spitless, the incident made me think a little.

Cat scratchSometimes when we help others, we get hurt.
And sometimes when others try to help us, we hurt them.

Speedy didn’t maliciously harm me. He was scared, and probably hurting. He was in survival mode.

We all have broken places. We all have pain. We’ve probably all “clawed” a few people that tried to save us from our selves.

There are plenty of stories of people coming to the rescue of others and physically being hurt, or even killed, for their acts. But we know that pain doesn’t just come in the form of cuts, broken bones or burns. I would venture to guess that more often the pain inflicted is internal from the words shouted in anger or spoken out of fear or perhaps the deafening silence that seems to say we don’t even merit the acknowledgement.

And all of those things hurt.
And we don’t like to be hurt.

So it becomes easier to avoid. If I’m not close to people… If I’m not trying to help… If I just mind my own business… then maybe I won’t get hurt again. That only leads to a lonely and empty life.

Relationships are messy. People are confusing. And the part of me that loves rules and organization and freaks out at “freestyle” wants black and white solutions in a world where there are way more than just 50 shades of grey.

But just because we have been hurt, or might get hurt, while helping doesn’t mean that we stop helping or that we stop reaching out.

If the same situation happened again, I would do it all over again because I love my Speedy boy. It’s the same with people – when we love, we take the risks because we know they are valuable and we cannot bear to see them hurt. The intention shouldn’t be to make us feel better or look good, but out of love for truly wanting to see others be free and whole.

After mom cleaned up my bloody mess and bandaged me up, Speedy nuzzled my hand and started trying to lick my wounds. He knew he messed up, and I considered it my kitty apology, which made me cry some more.

I will say that it feels a bit easier to give grace to the cat, than to people. I’ve got my share of stories that involve humans too, but I don’t have to worry about my cat reading the blog.

Have you ever been hurt helping? What made you want to keep reaching out?

Maybe you’ve hurt someone else that tried to help you? Did you ever acknowledge it and apologize?

 

 

Muddied Plans

Yesterday was one of those nasty weather, pull the covers over your head, go back to sleep and stay in pajamas sort of days. It began not so bright and oh so early when my alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. because I insanely signed up for a Fit Camp for the next three weeks. Thank you New Year’s resolution.

Somewhere around 1:15 my stomach was filled with food that doesn’t go along with said New Year’s resolution and my heart was set on being lulled to sleep by the sweet music of rain drops on the roof. Then the car wouldn’t accelerate and the check engine light came on and all my afternoon swam away in the flood waters as I prayed to not get stuck on the muddy side of a country road.

It seemed an awful lot like a metaphor for life. 

Sometimes I  jump up in the dark, in the nasty, in the cold and determinedly tackle whatever is before me. There is excitement about all the possibilities the next 24 hours could hold and there is a list in my head of all that could be accomplished. Hopes and dreams and Today Is The Day!!

But, inevitably there’s an obstacle somewhere that wasn’t planned for, and then I get stuck, or praying with everything in me to not get stuck, because I just didn’t see THAT coming.

Weather. Sickness. Car trouble. An urgent phone call. An unplanned bill. Whatever THAT happens to be.

“The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 NASB

The thing is sometimes I don’t feel very directed.

And I do NOT like to be lost, stranded or without a plan (and a backup plan). Okay, I have control issues. I know.

Then God reminds me that even though I didn’t see THAT coming, I was actually quite prepared.

With yesterday’s events, I had just replaced my lost phone in case I needed to make a call for help. I was within walking distance of people I knew. And I had actually taken along my super awesome rain boots and a change of clothes to the gym so I wasn’t running around in spandex and shoes that would soak through in about 2 minutes flat.

Looking back at the events of 2014, somehow I knew before I knew. I didn’t even realize it until I was flipping through some notes from the beginning of the year and I had written that I sensed it would be a “major transition year”. Understatement of the year.

My steps were directed even if it felt like a roller coaster that I never asked to take a ride on and did not have motion sickness medicine for to keep myself from hurling on my unsuspecting neighbor. I’m still working out the motion sickness from 2014.

But do we really believe that God is directing our steps? Can we truly trust even when we don’t “feel” like we are getting any answers?

My rain boots reminded me that I hear God better than I think I do most of the time and, often, when I do not even realize it.

I didn’t actually need the rain boots when the car messed up because it did get me back to mom’s warm, dry workplace with wi-fi to wait until dad got off of work. However, they did come in handy when we had to park at a relative’s house and walk home because the path back to our house was too flooded to drive.

Have any of your plans been muddied recently? Even though THAT caught you by surprise, can you see how you may be better prepared than you first thought?

Words Fail

The agony of separation and the pain of grief comes with the territory of being alive. We try to avoid it, but eventually it finds us all. We question it and we struggle through it with rage and tears and every emotion our frames of flesh can feel. And it can seem that when we need God most that He is terribly far.

This past week my dear friend, Kim, went into labor at just 24 weeks. Her baby girls, Fiona and Guinevere, arrived and were stable and we rejoiced in that. But the joy ended too soon.

Yesterday I sat at a memorial service for these precious girls – so wanted and so loved already – and I fought back both tears and anger.

I can in no way imagine the depth of grief my friends face in this time, but I know the pain that I feel simply because I love them and that their pain is magnified at least a thousand times over from that place. That knowledge alone seems unbearable.

I know that God has promised that we will endure suffering on earth, and I can somewhat reconcile that in my mind and heart. I know the world is fallen and terrible things happen because of it. But this… this just seems too much. Too unfair. Too cruel.

I know God is and will be with them. I know somehow there will be smiles and laughter and hope again. I know it means Fiona and Guinevere don’t have to endure the pain and suffering of this world.

But all of that seems so trite, because in moments like this words simply fail.

So I’m simply asking if you would pray for Kim and David and their families during this difficult time.

And if you feel led, there is a support fund set up to to help cover medical and funeral expenses, and I know that any amount would be deeply appreciated.

On Looking Back and Moving Forward

My last Sunday at ICA with my friend Tanya. Wearing my traditional Ukrainian vyshyvanka.
My last Sunday at ICA with my friend Tanya. Wearing my traditional Ukrainian vyshyvanka.

This weekend is the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine’s independence. It feels strange to be on this side of the world and watching from afar as this place I so love fights to keep that freedom.

In some ways it felt like time all but stopped when I left Ukraine in early spring. It was all right and all wrong at the same time. Since then, America has been this surreal feeling of moving frantically yet going nowhere in particular.

I’ve wanted to give you, to give myself, a plan, a timeline, an assurance, but I’ve had none and so I’ve remained all too silent.

Afraid you wouldn’t understand, after all, neither do I. Afraid you would deem me a quitter, a failure, a disappointment. And then as the clock marches relentlessly onward, it becomes easier to fade quietly into the shadows and hope no one asks and no one notices.

Right or wrong, in many ways I’ve felt guilty being here in America. While I’m sipping my Starbucks and trying to find my feet, I know some of the feelings and uncertainties that are a constant companion now for my Ukrainian family and how exhausting it can be. It seems all I can do from here is pray… and cry. It also seems I have forgotten that this is more powerful than all the elite armies of the world.

During this time, I have found that I am similar to my beloved adopted country — desiring change, yet resistant and stubborn beyond belief!

While Ukraine is growing up and figuring out the direction she will go in the future and fighting for the right to make those decisions, I find that I, too, have been in a battle of my own to figure out who God made me to be and discovering possibilities for a longer term timeline than the next 6-12 months.

Like kudzu slowly creeping its way across everything that lies in its path, my anxieties have grown and crept into cracks and crannies in the recesses of my heart. Life in Ukraine can be somewhat unforgiving and so I put on my strong face and marched ever forward until I simply couldn’t. It wasn’t the conflict that sent me home, it was my own neglect and pride catching up.

A year ago I was in the worst physical pain of my life, suffering from a herniated cervical disc and still trying to push through because that’s what I do, and that’s what I did for another six months. But sometimes you have to admit that something has to change, and that you cannot do it alone.

So that’s how I’ve come to find myself not in Ukraine, but in Los Angeles, California.

I’m staying with the Magnet family, who I met during my World Race in 2009. Since that crazy time of life, our paths have crossed several times (in several countries) and I have come to consider them my spiritual parents. I knew coming home that I needed to be with some people who would understand this crazy transition time, be familiar with all the good and bad that goes into a life overseas, but who could also be firm and loving to help me re-focus. They actually proposed the idea before I could and things fell into place.

It hasn’t all been peaches and cream for sure, but I think I am finally starting to move forward and get some direction which I hope to be sharing a little with you soon. One thing is certain, near or far, Ukraine is still the place God has put in my heart. I just know my feet need to be planted in American soil for a while.

Please continue to pray for Ukraine and the people there. The situation is tense and intense and changes frequently.

I try to keep my Facebook page a little more updated with prayer requests, news sources, and information from those I know on the ground in Ukraine. If you don’t follow yet and want to CLICK HERE.

 

Unstoppable

Somewhere in the distance
A faint cry is heard

My heart grasps frantically
Trying to catch the elusive

A familiar wailing echo
Uttered from within
And from without

With each beat a recognition
There are others with this cry

A desire, yes,
But also a necessity

Pressing against these iron bars of captivity
It is coming
Freedom will not be stopped