Lions Hope

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This is a real, non-photo shopped photo of  the real-life ‘Lion Whisperer” Kevin Richardson, and those are real non-domesticated, living in the wilds of Africa, lions!. This picture presses on a wild desire of my heart. One I have had for many years, one so real yet so ridiculous that I didn’t even dare to share it with others, not for a long time. The desire to pet a real live lion. Actually that is the watered down “realistic” version of my desire. The full version is (if it were possible for a lion to be domesticated, and if I could afford to feed one) to own one as a pet. I would LOVE to have a lion, to play with him, to nuzzle my face deep into his fluffy wild mane and snuggle against him on a warm summer afternoon, lazing under a tree in the cool grass, reading a book or napping. And the enjoyment I would get in seeing the expression on the face of a visitor to my home, as my pet lion rounded the corner to greet them!

Why do we tend to hide our most wanted desires, hopes, dreams? Why do we keep from sharing them, ridiculous as they may be? Why are some things so precious that we dare not speak them aloud?

I am in a process, on a journey, one that will probably last an entire lifetime. The abuse of my childhood has left me with innumerable scars and deeply ingrained beliefs. These beliefs are not all truths, many of them are in fact lies. The process is the untangling of these beliefs and the pain and mourning that comes with the realization of what I thought to be true only to realize that it is not. How do we restructure ingrained thinking, and how do we stop harming ourselves when that is all we’ve know? How do we relearn to react to situations in a “healthy” way, when we have been programmed to react out of survival instinct and that usually means a “go to” behavior that is not healthy.  How do we choose between what our heart says and what our brain says when they are opposite from each other? How do we decide to keep fighting when all of this is just soo very exhausting?

I jump back and forth over the highway of God’s ultimate desire for me from ditch to ditch. Sometimes I land closer to the highway, sometimes I land on the highway, but mostly it seems I end up in the ditches, at varying levels, next to the highway.

Depression is my go to survival instinct, along with isolation. I KNOW these places WELL, the tunnels that delve deep into the darkness, the darkest of places, even to the very foundations of darkness where you stand toe to toe with death itself. I have been there so often that I do not have a healthy “fear” of death.  I have little value for my life, and although I have recovered from the days of desperately wanting to take my own life, were life to be taken from me, or were I to be in a situation where I had to choses mine over another’s…well lets just say that that is not a scary thing for me to think about. The verse, 1 Corinthians 15:55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” comes to mind. I’ve experienced enough ugliness on this earth that truly there is nothing but relief and joy when I think of leaving it and joining Jesus. It is a very different matter however, when thinking about other people, or loved ones leaving this earth.

I hate that my go to reflex is self-contempt, self-hate, self-harm with my words and thoughts, choosing to endue and work through physical pain instead of knowing when to stop, or choosing isolation over reaching out. I am in the process of changing these behaviors and it is HARD. However, surprising as it may be, even in the middle of all this mess God had chosen to use me, and I have chosen to let Him. I have discovered a passion, and a place where I “fit”, one that has always been there, but not channeled directly.

Because I am so familiar with the dark places of depression and abuse I am able to journey their with others who find themselves trapped in the tunnels. I can sit with them in that dark place and hold there heart with great compassion and understanding. I am able to share parts of myself that minister to their pain and bring some relief of not being “the only one that feels like this”. This work energizes me, I enjoy loving on people, I am honored at being chosen by a hurting person to sit with them in their pain, truly honored.

And yet I marvel at the double mindedness I can have towards myself. How can I breathe life giving words of love and encouragement into another person, yet slice myself to the core with violently hateful words and thoughts, towards myself? The craziness of it!

Why is it so much easier to see the value of another? Why am I not able to extend the grace and compassion I have for others towards my own hurting, healing, self? These are the places, and the questions I am currently searching. I too am allowing someone to sit with me in my pain and hold my heart. Maybe that is the true circle of life. If my bucket is empty and I never get the help I need, I will not be able to help others, and since helping others is a passion for me, in order to do it I MUST fill my bucket.

Back to the picture above. This year I took the time to come up with a goal for myself, it is in the quotes above, I added it to the picture before posting it. While looking at that sentence and pondering all that it means to me, I asked God for a picture to capture those words, something that spoke to my heart. I suddenly remembered a post I saw of this man on facebook, and how tears of joy and longing fell while watching him interact with these lions. I googled him, and God placed this picture in front of me, and instantly my heart filled, and tears came to my eyes. YES, that is EXACTLY IT!  That captures exactly what I want to experience when I say “I will allow myself to hope and dream again, to listen to the whispers of my heart and entertain the possibilities and the what if’s”. What could be more “what if” than that photo?

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life knee jerking to the depths of darkness, and isolation when my hope is crushed, my soul is hurt, or my longings not met. I want to be able to embrace truth and grace for myself.  I want the kind thoughts to be louder than the hateful ones. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling foolish for allowing myself to hope or dream, especially when those hopes and dreams are crushed or remain unmet, floating in front of me, like a carrot in front of a horse. I want to live more on the highway, and less in the ditches, and I want to learn how to do it this side of Heaven.

Psalms 130:5 “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”

2014 A New Year

My goal (I don’t do resolutions) for 2014 is to allow myself to hope and dream again, to listen to the whispers of my heart and entertain the possibilities and the what if’s.

 I enjoyed New Year ’s Eve. I spent the early part of it having coffee/tea with a new friend, who graciously found me important enough to take the time to get to know me better. It blessed me tremendously, and spoke to my heart, as a huge part of my struggle/ story involves the belief of the lie that I am not wanted or wantable. I left there feeling wanted.

The rest of the evening was spent at my brother and sister-in-laws house with 4 wild and carefree kids and 3 wild and carefree adults. We watched movies, there was dancing, laughing, hair braiding, nail polishing, playing, and just being silly. It was fun, they are the most important people in my life, and I am grateful beyond words for them.

Yet, there were still places in my soul that were not satisfied, and my deep longings and brokenness wouldn’t allow me to fully embrace the feelings of excitement and magic that Ryan Seacrest animated, while the hoopla of Times Square, jammed with people, cheered on the dropping of the ball.

And then the count down, 10,9,8….. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!! and the reality of my singleness, my longings, and the weight of yet another year to get through, snapped against my heart like a rubber band, that ever present sting rising to the surface. I hate it. I hate the shame and the self-condemning thoughts of not being totally satisfied with the gifts I’ve been given, and for still wanting more.

The truth is that I’m not excited for another year. And in my process of healing my soul I’ve chosen to sit with the truth of my feelings. I’m not going to pretend that I’m excited or that everything has the essence of being shiny and new, or that I’m starting off with a “clean slate”. I’m not going to pretend that the sting of not having a significant other to share the traditional “Midnight Kiss” with wasn’t there. It was there, along with the shameful and selfish thoughts of “Uggghh another year, how many more of these am I going to have to endure God?”  Mixed in with the condemning thoughts of, “Do you know how many people would give anything to just have more year, one more DAY, with a lost loved one? And here I am not appreciating or wanting the days I’ve been given!” Shame, ambivalence, self-contempt, realness. 

 I will not force myself to pretend to feel fully satisfied, not anymore. And truly I don’t think any of us will reach the fullness of true contentment this side of Heaven. I believe longings and desires come from God to help us move closer to Him. So, that’s what I have chosen to do this new year. I have chosen to continue exploring the longings of my heart, and the places that are not satisfied. I have chosen to feel my feelings, to sit in them instead of masking them, and to actually ASK God aloud, what is it I’m REALLY wanting? What is it You are trying to lead me towards? Then, I will do my best to listen and allow my heart to be open to new possibilities.  I will continue to tell myself to trust that God really does want His best for me.

Jeremiah 29:11  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

Psalm 107:9   “For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness.”

Invited

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I watch this movie “While You Were Sleeping” every year along with other Christmas favorites. There are two scenes that always stir my heart. The scene where Lucy says ” Have you ever been so alone you spend the night confusing a man in a coma?” and the scene above, where Lucy sits watching the family simply “do family”, knowing she doesn’t truly belong there, but just thankful for the opportunity to watch it unfold in front of her, thankful for being included.

There is a longing to be invited into those places. The places that do not belong to me, the places I have not been invited into but wish I were, the places where I “watch through the window from the front porch”.  There is a relating to feeling “so alone”, and a hunger to simply taste the crumbs of what I ache for as I watch it play out in others lives.

And yet as I think on why it is that I don’t belong where I want to belong, or why I’m not invited to where I really want to join in, I am reminded that Jesus too knocks on MANY doors that refuse to invite Him in and that there are many places that He is not welcome. He longs to be invited just like I do.

He reminds me in the stillness of my heart that I do have places where I am invited and welcomed, and that the places where I am not, as lovely as they may seem, may not hold the satisfaction that I imagine they do.  I may never have “my own” family, and I may never get married, and I may just have to decide to be content with watching through the window of the lives I long to be a part of.

Oh and how guilty it makes me feel for wanting more. What I have is good and real and yet the ache for more is just as real.  I don’t want to spend another Christmas sitting in a room with parents that do not love me, with parents that are not capable of loving me, and having to balance that truth with the desire to have the experience of a loving parent.

I swing back and forth between being ok with the crumbs left over from the celebration and wanting my very own loaf all to myself. I try to make myself ok with just being allowed to sit in the same space and watch people do “family” the way it is supposed to be done and yet at the same time I want to force my way into being wanted and invited and demand that I be accepted and loved. But life does not work like that, not on this side of heaven.

I am grateful for the family I have that does love me, and the lengths that they go to in order to include me and bless me. I am thankful for my friends who welcome me in at any time. I am also grateful for a God who understands wanting to be invited in, a God who understands wanting more.

Something Beautiful

Psalm 90:17 And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us…

I’ve discovered that when my soul is not at rest, that the best remedy for me is to seek out beauty.  There is something about beauty, especially the beauty found in nature that brings a peace to my body, and shortens the distance I feel from the presence of God.

My heart leaps when spotting the very first Robin of the year, carrying with it the proclamation that winter is over! Rejoice! After what seems to have been a lifetime of cold and dreary, warm rains bring the smell of damp earth and with it the appearance of fresh life pushing up from under the decay of fallen leaves. The first bud, the first bloom, and then the sudden burst of green as the world seems to come alive all at once.

Magic happens lying under a tree on a warm summer day and looking up through its lush, green, leaves to the bright blue of the sky in between the branches, while the sun peaks through in golden lines.  

Sitting at the very edge of the great Lake Michigan, everything around me disappears into the sounds of the waves and the feel of sand beneath my feet. The scent of the breeze on my face and the call of the gulls flying above transports me to a place of peaceful solitude.

The satisfying crunch of fallen leaves under my feet, and the way they rustle when the breeze turns them inside out and they float gently to the ground. The thrill of catching a glimpse of that rare moment when a rush of wind causes the leaves to swirl off the ground into a funnel formation, and then settles back into itself.

Ahhh, and my favorite, the first glistening snow fall after what seems an eternity of bleak, brown-ness. The best part is when the light catches the snow just right and the whole world is glistening like diamonds! Magic is standing under the moonlight watching giant snowflakes float around you. When else are you ever more aware of the air that passes in and out of your lungs, the crisp cold of it going in and the visible release of it going back into the atmosphere. The crunch of snow with every step, and stillness. There is no other stillness like that of a cold winter night.  No other season offers that kind of silence, or that kind of stillness. No leaves to rustle, no crickets to chirp, no birds singing, no bugs buzzing. Silence, stillness, shimmering white, and snowflakes that dance around you.

God has created something beautiful, and His creations are majestic and peace bringing.

Most wonderful time of the year?

I LOVE Christmas. All of it, everything about it from start to finish. I love the lights, the crisp air, the crunching of snow, the music, the colors, ornaments and the memories they carry, watching people get blessed, the giddiness of little ones, the anticipation, the joy, the food, the friendship, the love and the celebration of Jesus, all the cheesy movies and the hot cocoa…..

This year it is different. Actually the past few years have been different. This year I have chosen to actually let myself feel the authentic feelings that refuse to be plastered over with a smile and a false pretense. This year I hate Christmas. Yes, I said it, and I used the word hate.

This year the never ending streaming of Christmas music leaves an actual physical ache in my chest. This year I can’t even walk into the storage room that houses my decorations, let alone put them up. This year I can’t stop crying, and my aching soul is filled with shame at my selfishness, and I’m “should-ing” all over myself.  I should be: happy, joyful, celebrating, thankful for what I have, thankful I’m not worse off, thankful period. But I’m not.

  Instead I’m wrestling with God for answers. A God who I know doesn’t owe me anything, a God I should be in awe of and respectful toward and yet He is the same God who appears to be failing me time and time again. Doesn’t He see my pain? The Bible says He does. Does He care? The Bible says He does. Aren’t these longings and desires from Him? The Bible says they are. Then why do they feel like torture?

This Christmas I do not want any gifts. Truly and honestly I just don’t want any part of it. I am in too much pain. My soul is in anguish and it’s all I can do to just lift my head off the pillow. My season of mourning continues and it goes against everything that my mind is screaming at me. It goes against every message being broadcast across our nation, our church, our neighborhood, and even my own mind. Yet it is very real and it just is.  

Shifting

I’ve noticed something shifting lately; I can feel it deep inside me. It’s like the seasons slowly blending one into the next, my soul is shifting, and these are the verses that have been washing up on the shore of my heart over and over again like tireless waves against the rocks.

Psalms 42:5- “Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation.”

Matthew 5:4- “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”

I have been in great need of comfort, and up until a few months ago I hadn’t realized that my soul had many things it needed to mourn in order for that comfort to come. There are things I wasn’t even in tune to, things that I had looked away from and ignored for many years, in hope that they would grow quiet by themselves, and then there are the bigger things, the ones that seem to ache with each breath.  And so I have been in mourning.  Facing pain, and freeing myself to comfort, slowly, deliberately, and with the gentle guidance of God. Something in my soul is beginning to shift.

My desire to be a mom is one of the bigger things. The longing to carry and give birth to my very own child has been rooted deeply in my heart. This desire has been with me from the time I was old enough to hold a doll. It is deep and it is real and it is a good, Godly desire.

The years have passed and with them the pain of this longing grows. It has become one of those longings we don’t talk about because the reality of it is just too painful, too deep, and just simply speaking it aloud brings tears.  Then there is the reality of this earthy place where we live and the earthly bodies that we reside in.  Things are shifting.  My body is aging, my reality is growing closer, my longings are losing the battle to their earthly reality, and I am in need of comfort.

I know that nothing is impossible with God, and that “anything can happen”, yet I feel the hand of God leading me, in mourning the loss of what may never be.  God is gently folding up this precious longing and placing it in my “hope chest” and with it, the comfort and the tears coincide.

I am lovingly reminded by my sister–in-law that although it is not the same, I “have” children. I am “Auntie” to four beautiful babies that I have had the honor of loving, and caring for from the day of each of their births, never missing a first word, first step, first food, or a birthday. I love them fiercely; I love them like a mother. God has also reminded me of the countless children I have cared for over the years as nanny, babysitter, nursery worker….and I feel Him reassuring me that even though it is not how I wanted it, or how I expected it, He will use me in spite of it.

My soul is shifting, my paradigm is changing. My vision for my future is slowly being renewed as I look at a different life, one without this longing and desire aching like an open wound. God has reassured me that it is ok to place this one in the “hope chest” and in my mourning He is blanketing me in comfort.  This longing may never be unfolded this side of heaven, or maybe it will, and both is ok.