Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Blog

I've got a new life, so I started a new blog. I haven't been blogging much, and I really think it's because I needed to let go of my past and start over. I know that sounds weird (I's just a blog), but this blog is tied to a lot of hard times, and whenever I came here to post anything, I felt a little to close to all of the raw emotion. (Again, I realize this is irrational. It just is what it is.)

I will always be thankful for how God worked through me and allowed me to process with Grace Gets Greater. So if you want to keep up with my life, or read more of my crazy ramblings, please join me at my new blog! Thank you to anyone who encouraged me through this blog in the last few years. God has blessed me with you all, and I hope you will enjoy The Main Squeeze!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

If It Ain't Broke

The Green Demon refused to start this week. It made for a very bad day.

The Green Demon is a 1995 Subaru Legacy that The Scientist has been driving for about a year. It's my parents' car. They had it laying around, and when a need came up, they were happy to share. But it's a really old car, and as most really old cars are, it's unpredictable in the whole "actually working" department.

Monday, it wouldn't start at all. We decided the time was right to get a different vehicle, even though the thought of a new payment wasn't all that appealing. We could afford it, but it would mean a much tighter budget and no more sushi. Neither of those sounded appealing. Nevertheless, we set out car shopping. Then, over the course of the day, we were hit with what my father refers to as a "gotcha." It's something that seems to come at you from left field, and Gotchas are usually game changing. They are the things that happen that you can't really plan for, and are never ready to deal with. They are your washing machine going out when your paycheck didn't electronically deposit or your savings having to be spent on a freak medical issue that you didn't realize you had. It's the kind of gut punch that leaves you trying desperately at the end of your day to count your blessings, because surely in this giant mess of crap, you still have some somewhere.

This one was most certainly a Gotcha, and it meant that buying a car would have to be put on an indefinite hold. We made our way home in silence, trying to get to somewhere in our heads that didn't involve mentally curling up in the fetal position. It was a long drive home.

The next day, my father spoke up and suggested that we just continue to fix the Green Demon. "It's bought and paid for, and as long as it's not a huge fix, you might drive this thing for another two years...or even 10 years! It's a good car if we just try to keep it running." So that's the plan, for now. We're thankful for the providence, and have mentally added it to the list of our blessings.

And then, at 5 this morning, I couldn't sleep and had a rather insane need to write. It's no secret that I've been in brokenness for the last few years. It's no secret that I've been angry at God. It's no secret that I've made mistakes and done things I wish I could take back. But something amazing has been happeneing to me in the past year. God has been moving past all of the brokenness in a healing effort. He's been using it in my career as a therapist, and I'm seeing so many ways that I am so much more effective at my calling because of my life experiences. He's right smack dab in the middle of using all of this mess for GOOD, and Praise Jesus that He has the power to make that happen.

But I was hit with something early this morning. There are some people who still only see my brokenness. I realized that it's this way with so many Christians. They look at people and see their brokenness before anything else. I spent a lot of my time with Christians like this. For many years, I was this Christian. But God has changed me, and I'm realizing that His vantage point is a bit different. Yes, he sees the brokenness. Yes, he sees the mess. Yes, he sees the long road of healing ahead. But before any of that, He sees the person's worth. He sees someone He loves, and He sees someone He sent his son to die for: the meek, the broken, the weary, the weird, and the wild.

We spend entirely too much time judging the brokenness of others, when what we are called to do is love them for their inherent worth. Christians, in my experience, are the worst at this. If you want to be judged by your actions and looked down upon by your peer group, hang out with a bunch of over zealous Christians who are trying to win favor with God.

I want to play with the people who get it, who can see WHO Christ died for before they see WHY He had to. I want to be the person who encounters someone's brokenness and is unphased by how far they have to go, because I know a God who calls them worthy of redemption along the way. I want to worship with other Christians who are redefining the societal view of Christianity by loving others in their primary language. People everywhere are broken, and people everywhere need healing. But I've learned something:

It doesn't matter that you are broken. It only matters that you are paid for.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Equipment Failure

***My father might kill me for sharing this story. But I'm going to big fat do it anyway. Ask for forgiveness not permission, right? Love you, DAD!***

Over the years my father has had a lot of hobbies. He's an avid cyclist, and every year for his birthday he rides the same number of miles as he is old. He could probably give Lance Armstrong a run for his money. And years ago, he enjoyed motorcycles. But he's had one passion since I was a little girl that still sends a look of amazement and wonder across his face: flying. He has recently reignited this passion and it reminds me of a fun little story.

When I was a little girl, I'm guessing about 11 or 12 judging from the frizzy hair and pudgy awkwardness I exhibit in all of the pictures from this era, my dad had his pilot's license. He had worked hard to earn it, logged a ton of flight hours in the sky, and at the culmination of this perseverance, he purchased a green four-seater plane.

I hated it.

I was proud of my dad for getting his pilot's license, and it was super cool to "own a plane" but I HATED flying! I got motion sickness, and in a tiny plane like his, you feel every single little bump of wind, smell nothing but fuel the entire time, and experience a continuous, loud, vibrating hum that zips through your body for the duration of the flight. My father's passion was the bane of my existence for the whole of the awkward pudgy years.

Which leads me to my story.

One year my parents decided to take the family on a vacation to Gulf Shores Alabama. It's about 10 hours away by car. But we were bold and daring, and my father had new flight equipment to try out! So we crammed into the tiny cockpit of the "Green Machine of Misery" and took off into the blue sky for the FAMILY VACATION OF A LIFETIME! (Insert sarcasm and foreshadowing here.)

We flew. And we flew. And we flew. And I got dizzy, nauseous, cold, and clammy. And then we flew some more. As we neared the end of the day, there was some generally unnerving chatter occurring between my parents, and a map had appeared from the tiny glove box. From my position in the plane behind "Captain Daddy" I noticed my father doing a lot of looking outside the window at the ground, and a lot of my mother, "The Navigator" turning the map around a lot while pointing at things out the window. But because of the incessant hum of the engine, I couldn't tell what was going on. However, the back of Captain Daddy's head and the frequency and ferocity at which The Navigator was rotating the map were communicating a very clear message. Something was amiss. My sister, The Quiet Reader (AKA "Mom, Sara's Looking At Me Again"), must have noticed as well, because she had abandoned her book and was now also watching the backs of our parents' heads with a quizzical look on her face.

About the time I was getting ready to get good and scared, Captain Daddy spotted a runway and we began to come in for a landing. I relaxed as much as a pudgy awkward airsick kid could relax and took solice in the fact that we would be out of the Green Machine of Misery soon. I felt the jolt in my stomach as our altitude decreased and then the bump underneath us as the plane's wheels made contact with the precious ground....we rolled to a stop....and then blue lights started flashing and men with air traffic control sticks began making angry gestures in our general direction.

I panicked.

"Daddy, what's wrong?!?! What's happening??? Why are they sending police cars after us? Why are those men angry at us? WHAT DID YOU DO????"

It's the only time in history that I recall my father actually yelling at me to "SHUT UP!!!!"

We exited the plane, they ushered us into a lobby, and my father was taken into a back room with a bunch of angry men who looked very official. Apparently, in an effort to get us to Gulf Shores, Alabama where there is a small, private airport for small, privately owned planes, Captain Daddy had suffered an "equipment failure" and landed The Green Machine of Misery at the Pensacola National know....the one where commercial planes land and air traffic control clearance or some sort of special authorization to land are required. Since we were not a commercial plane and we didn't have air traffic control clearance or some sort of special authorization to land, my father was in a tiny room. Possibly under arrest. Definitely in serious trouble.

My sister resumed reading. The Navigator, I'm fairly certain, was praying. But I was stewing, still indignant that my father had told me to shut up.

A little while later, Captain Daddy sheepishly walked out of the room followed by the angry man. They shook hands, exchanged forced pleasantries, and we were ushered back into the Green Machine of Misery where my father gave me explicit instructions that I was to sit back there and be quiet. No one said a word. We took off again, and were on our way, armed with very precise directions to the small private airport in Gulf Shores. I found out later that the angry man really could have had my father arrested, as he had been forced to delay large airplanes due to us puttering into their airstrip uninvited. But he was gracious and chose to look the other way.

As it turned out, we weren't that far off from the airport we were supposed to land at, and I learned, years later, that my father had been communicating with the correct control tower, he was simply at the wrong landing strip. Nevertheless, we got to Gulf Shores and went on to have the worst vacation in family history, a mere 15 Green Machine of Misery hours away from home. Ten by car.

I'm sure my father apologized for yelling at me to Shut Up, and though this was roughly 20 years ago, we are just now able to talk about this entire incident with a touch of laughter, as Captain Daddy doesn't seem to enjoy the story as much as the rest of us.

But as is the case with nearly all of my blogs, there is a moral to the story, so here it is:

Sometimes, in life, you will have an equipment failure. Sometimes you will simply lose your way. And sometimes, when it happens, someone is there, ready to give you Grace.

But no matter what, even if it's faster, even if it's cheaper, even if Jesus himself is flying the plane,

you should always, ALWAYS, DRIVE.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again

I recently attended a going away party for a friend who is moving to a tropical island so her husband can go to medical school. Her life is hard. Please pray for her. ;)

Anyway, this party consisted of a ton of people I used to go to church with a.k.a. people who have practically known me my entire life. I'm fairly certain that a small handful of people there changed my diapers at one point in time, and I know for a fact that they have all seen me at one time or another do the ugly cry. I have years of history with these people, but after my divorce from Ex, I wanted a new beginning. I moved about 30 minutes away and stopped going to this church. I now keep up with most of these people via facebook.

Because I'm from a small town, word gets around fast. When I married and divorced The Asshole That Shall No Longer Be Named, the entire community heard the news that I had obviously lost my shit and spiraled out of control. I can only imagine the thoughts and possible conversations that took place when this news came out. I mean...for a while there, I really had lost it. I was making terrible decisions. I was really unhealthy. I was kind of crazy.

But here's the was just for a little while. I made a bad decision, but I also made it right. I was acting really unhealthy, but I'm not anymore. I was kind of crazy. Now I'm using my past for God's purpose for me. But I got the distinct impression at this party that several of these people don't see that. At one point in time a conversation took place between me and someone who I have always loved and admired...and it sort of broke my heart.

When she asked me what I'm doing now, I replied that I am a counselor and building a practice in the area. Her eyes widened...she stumbled on her words...and then her husband walked up. She told him I was a counselor now. I think her exact words were, "Did you know Sara is a counselor now?" Pretty tame, right? But her tone, the widened eyes, and his expression upon hearing what I was up to these days communicated a message somewhat akin to "Sara's a counselor now?!?!?! But she's CRAZY!" And then this woman made a half hearted attempt to suggest that maybe I might be a good counselor because I've been through stuff.

But she obviously didn't believe it.

And again, it broke my heart. It's not that I need these people to approve of me. My life is just fine with or without their support. I have a network of people that love me and GET ME...and it's really not necessary for these people on the outskirts to believe in what I'm doing or the fact that I am actually good at it. What actually breaks my heart isn't that these people who I have known my whole life don't believe in me. What really gets to me is the lack of grace, the lack of compassion, and the inability to see past their misconceptions and the unwillingness to even try.

Situations like this make me thankful that it's God's grace that purposes my journey and not the perceptions of others. I made a mess of my life there for a good solid year. I got myself into hot water and made things harder that didn't have to be. But because of that same level of sickness in my life, I now know a deeper sense of security, and greater wealth of healing, a heavenly magnitude of mercy, and the white knuckle grip of grace.

People say you can't go home again, and this experience has made that phrase come to life for me. It was uncomfortable...unwelcoming...unpleasant...a place where who I used to be seemed to win over who I actually am. The people of my past may never be able to look past my mistakes. They may never be able to see the healing that has taken place in my life. And quite honestly, they may just not care. It's a hard pill to swallow, but isn't that just the case with humanity sometimes?

The truth is, I could have avoided all of that pain and hardship by simply making a better decision on the front end. Then no one would think I'm crazy. No one would raise their brows at my desire to help others. No one would have anything at all to say about anything. But that's not what happened and as a result I now know two things:

1. People still think I'm sick, crazy, or broken,


2. God will go to the very deepest depths of despair to meet me in my sickness, to find me in my craziness, and to accept me in my brokenness,

just so He can bring me back home again.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Finish Line

It was late 2007 when Ex and I split up, and around that same time when I began to think long and hard about what I wanted my life to look like. I was in sales at the time and hated every minute of it. I was good at it. I could build relationships quickly, people liked me, and I could put up some impressive numbers when I really wanted to put in the effort. But most of the time, I hated what I was doing, so my effort was limited. Then, in the spring of 2008, it hit me in the middle of a praise team practice that I was supposed to go back to school to get my masters and be a therapist. And just like that, I was in motion. I applied to the Master of Marriage and Family Therapy program and got accepted to begin in the fall of 2008. There were plenty of reasons not to go. It would mean taking time away from my beautiful baby boy, and it would cost a lot of money. It would take a lot of effort, and would suck.

In late August, 2008, I parked my car in front of Greathouse Science, the building where I would spend A LOT of time over the next couple of years. It's an older, red brick building, and the floor mat as you walk in the basement level double doors smells like a wet dog. There was a girl walking in at the same time as me. She asked if I knew what room we were in. In a moment of sheer departure from character, I whipped out my planner and glanced at the note that I had jotted down about the room number, which happened to be on the fourth floor. It was strange for me to be so organized and on top of things. (And I learned later, that it's CRAZY out of character for her to NOT be organized and on top of things.) But we huffed our way up four flights of stairs and she seated herself at my left side.

That day, this girl and I went to lunch at Subway, because neither of us knew anyone else. Little did I know that she would become one of the greatest girlfriends that anyone could ever ask for, and I had no idea that we would walk up those stairs and sit just like that for the next 2 and a half years. But we did. Every class...every lecture...every step of the way. We are different in more ways than we are alike. She's structured and organized. I am not. She is a planner and prefers details. I am not. But we forged a friendship that I honestly don't know if I would have survived grad school without. This is partly because she became my support system, and partly because I stopped buying the books during the second year of school and she panicked about my complete lack of preparation and unfailingly made copies for me. Some might say she is an enabler. I say she's a DAMN. FINE. FRIEND.

We graduated today. And during the (really...insanely....obscenely) long commencement service, as they were calling name after name of people I'd never met, I realized she was sitting on my left side. Again. And always. And I was reminded that I am one lucky chick. She is, without question, the biggest perk of getting a Masters degree.

There were plenty of good reasons to get my Masters. I felt like God had created me with a purpose, and now, more than ever, I realize that purpose is to offer healing in the lives of other people. I knew ever so slightly what healing looked like in 2008, but PRAISE JESUS, I KNOW HEALING NOW. I know what it's like to be my own biggest stumbling block, to invite toxicity into my life, to breathe in and breathe out in order to survive and do no more, and to mess up time and time again. But I also know HEALING. I know what it's like for God to extend his Grace, for Jesus to be enough, and for the finger of God to pull back the curtain on my shame so that I might again see a glimpse of the beautiful woman he created me to be. I have both spit in His face and curled up in His lap more times than I can possibly count. And whatever I was doing, being a bratty child or a tender heart, He received me with Grace. He ALWAYS receives me with Grace. Because that's MY God. And I can say with complete peace, that I know Him now.

There were plenty of great reasons to take this path, and at various times there were plenty of pretty great reasons to step off it. But one thing kept me going. Just one, very small thing. In 2008 I woke up to a life where it was just me and E. And I knew there would never be a better time for me to embrace education so that one day I could provide a better life for him, be more available to him, and do great things that might leave my son with a living legacy. It took a lot of sacrifice. I dropped him off at a grandparent's house more times than I can count. (And by the way, if you are one of those grandparents...I owe you. 'Thank you' will never be enough.) I left work many nights only to go to class instead of home to him, and on more occasions than I care to admit, someone other than me picked him up from school. So many times I felt guilty for sacrificing my time with him, but I kept reminding myself that SOMEDAY it would be worth it all. Someday, this process would end, and I would have opportunities to create a better life for us than I could back then.

"Someday" is here. Because today, I graduated with a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. The irony of this is still pretty tough for me to swallow, but when I actually started working with people in my internship, I realized that I had something special to offer them. I am able to offer understanding and empathy to a degree that I would never be able to if I had not had to WALK HEALING. He really does make all things good. And I have waited two and a half years for this picture:

the one with my degree in my right hand...

and the reason for it in my left.

"Vitality shows not only in the ability to persist, but the ability to start over."

~F. Scott Fitzgerald

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Women

For a while, God and I weren't on speaking terms as much as we just generally passed each other in the hallway and tried to avoid eye contact. Well...ok...that was just me. But you get the point. However, in the last 6 weeks or so, He's been loving on my spirit, and I've slowly been allowing it to happen, begrudgingly at first and then, lately, with abandon. But there's a price to pay for allowing God's mercies to seep back into your soul, and that price is, in my world, known as "self-awareness." And while it's ALWAYS a good thing in the end, sometimes it feels a bit like wiping your ass with damp toilet paper. Icky.
Two and a half years ago I started this blog and named it Grace Gets Greater, because at that particular moment in my life, I was surviving on absolutely nothing but the Grace of God. I had just come off a very painful divorce from Ex, and found myself each day trying to find the old pieces of my life that were scattered around and working with exhausting ferociousness to connect them to the new pieces. It didn't always work out so well...Lord, help me...but today, there's a pretty calm peace settled over me, and life is good. However...
There's been one pretty big piece from my old life that's been looming in my new life, and it doesn't fit, it doesn't feel good, and I'm tired of pretending that it's not there. I've been struggling with it for two years, and my renewed connection with God has brought this to the forefront so that I can no longer pretend it doesn't bother me. During the mess of my divorce a few years ago, someone involved in that process caused a great deal of pain and hurt in my life. Their presence in my life has continued on a limited, but unavoidable, basis, and it's become increasingly obvious to me over the last few months, that my peace and sanity, and perhaps more importantly, the peace and sanity of my son, depend on righting this wronged relationship.
I can't adequately express in a blog just HOW TALL AN ORDER THIS IS.
You see, for the last couple of years my pain has found a tiny bit of solice in the arms of karma. She's fast, loose, dependable...and known for being quite a bitch. I've kind of been counting on her. When all else fails, Karma will sweep in and right the wrongs...set the record straight...and shine light into the dark corners. In several moments of shattered weakness, she has been my only strength. And again...I HAVE BEEN COUNTING ON HER.
But in the past couple of weeks, God reintroduced me to my long lost friend...someone that had drifted from my memory like a facebook friend from grade school. Grace showed up again with her bag of tricks that, at first glance, seem benign. But as she opens the bag, they come tumbling out, an unending array of novelties, like Mary Poppins and her carpet bag of surprises. They were all there...kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, compassion, and the one that she carries so well, forgiveness.
I realized recently that while both of these women have obvious appeal, this heart isn't big enough for both of them. I've been best friends with Karma for a good long while now, only to learn that she is harsh, bitter, and selfish. And my, oh my, how I have missed Grace. The truth is that we all screw up...we all, for moments at a time, turn into people that we don't recognize...we all should have done it differently...and we all have it coming. Karma used to tell me that vengeance was my right. Grace tells me that forgiveness is my privilege.
Grace is my steadfast truth. Karma is...has always been... the other woman.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Modern Day Miracles

I get to people watch a lot from behind the bar. Most of the time it's just business men drinking or an occasional bachelor party. And most of the time I tune everything out and just get through the night. Every now and then I have a good conversation. And once in a while, I make a friend. But last night something happened that blessed me in a way that I haven't experienced in a good long while.

I first met Wilbur and Karen in January. They are about my parents' age and Wilbur was mad at me before he ever knew my name. We were out of Ribeye that night, and he was simply disgusted that a hotel such as ours would run out of an entree such as Ribeye. I tried to make it better with vodka, but it only worked marginally. He was ill. I will admit to plenty of muttering under my breath and thinking about what he could do with that steak knife...until his son walked up to me and said, "I'm sorry about my dad. My brother is in the hospital and he's really stressed out. He really doesn't mean it."

Immediately my heart melted and I felt the uncontrollable need to give them free cheesecake. That always helps, right? So the next night, when Wilbur and Karen returned, without their son, I talked to them longer and learned their other son, Eric, was in the hospital with aplastic anemia. He was 34 and facing the fight of his life. His brother had come to town to see if he was a bone marrow match as finding a donor would be his best opportunity for healing. Over the next few days I watched as the couple came rolling in each night, worry on their faces, determination in their voices, and Ribeye in their bellies. (High five to my hotel for actually getting their shit together.)

They kept me up to speed with the treatment Eric was getting at the hospital. He would need to be stripped of all of his bone marrow, lots of toxic medicines, days upon days in sterile rooms hosed down with bleach, and lots of endless question marks. His brother, sadly, was not a match, so he faced an aggressive treatment with only a sliver of hope on the other side. Every night, while he was sleeping in his sterile room, I fed Wilbur and Karen calamari and steak, vodka and wine. We talked. They asked about my life, which I felt almost embarrassed to share knowing they were going through such hard times. But I got to KNOW them. They told me how Wilbur's first wife (Eric's mom) had died in a car accident and how that had made Eric angry at God. But they KNEW that God would find him again and maybe this, the sickness and the fear, would get his attention. They talked about their granddaughter, their brilliant ray of sunshine, in such a gray world. They laughed as openly as a couple that had just come from the store instead of the hospital. They smiled and encouraged one another, and at some point, the LET ME IN.

What they didn't know about me, was that I was having my own struggles with God. I hadn't felt spiritually connected in a long time, and had really begun to question just how big God's involvement in my own life really was. They had no idea that as they talked about prayer and miracles that in my own mind I was questioning whether or not God really cared...or whether or not prayer would work...or whether it mattered at all. It was a spiritually dry place that had been suffocating my soul for months. And as they talked about their faith, on the inside I ached for it. Nevertheless, I said a few prayers for them...out of respect...out of affection...out of habit.

After a while they went home to West Virginia and every few weeks I would watch as they turned the corner into the restaurant, always nervous about why they were back, and always armed with wine and vodka for the purposes of either celebration or alcohol induced sleep, as the case demanded.

Last night something special happened. I was watching American Idol with Kenny, the Coors Lite drinker for Cincinnati, when I saw Wilbur and Karen come into the restaurant. I got nervous. Why were they back? What had happened? Was Eric ok? I watched nervously as they sat down at the bar, my eyes wide with anticipation of what they were about to say.

"You're back?" I asked anxiously.

"Yep! And do we have a story for you!" Wilbur said. "Pour me a vodka and get ready for this..."

I poured a glass of Grey Goose and Karen said, "We're not even staying at this hotel. You guys didn't have any rooms. But when we found out about this we knew we had to stop by and tell you."

And they told me the story of a miracle. Actually...several miracles. Several years back, Eric had a friend that died of Leukemia, and he was so inspired by her journey with the illness that he decided to donate stem cells. The stem cells were given to a family with a young child, also suffering from Leukemia. And then they were forgotten about. Now, unbeknownst to Wilbur, Karen, and Eric, his Dr. had been searching for those stem cells only to discover that they had never been used by the young child, because miraculously, the child had gone into remission. And miraculously, the family was found. And miraculously, they were willing to relinquish the stem cells back to Eric's Dr. And miraculously, those stem cells, which Eric had donated to save a life,

Wilbur and Karen credit prayer and give God every ounce of glory. Eric has said he's ready to talk to his pastor again. And last night, behind the bar, with a bottle of Grey Goose in my hand, my eyes welled up with tears of celebration and silently I prayed,
Ok God. You have my attention.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Walk Softly and Carry A Big Stick

There's a scene in the Swiss Family Robinson where a zebra is stuck in quicksand struggling to get out. The two oldest sons and the girl that they rescued from the pirates spend a while trying to get the animal out of the muck until finally the zebra is freed. Then, because what else would you do with a zebra, they ride it home. Obviously.

This scene popped into my head this week while I was doing therapy with a client. I may not have mentioned on here, but I'm neck deep in my grad school internship at the moment, which means that several days a week I sit across from people on a one on one basis and watch as they pour out their guts, cry out their eyes, and generally make sense of their issues. I LOVE IT. For awhile I felt like all of the brokenness in my life meant that I was a failure. Now I just think God will use the brokenness by letting me watch (and hopefully using me) as he heals the brokenness of others. It's a humbling experience, to say the least, but I'm incredibly excited for this next phase of life. Anyway, I was working with a client this week and she was describing something that many describe when they are faced with struggles. She felt stuck. Her world was crashing down on her. She was sinking. And no matter what, she felt there was no way out.

I found myself during the session picturing the zebra in the quicksand, struggling to get free and sinking down even farther. And because I have also been in this crashing way out place, I knew the feeling of despair that sits on your soul when you are there. So that day, when I got home, I googled "how to get out of quicksand." The result was shockingly therapeutic. There are a couple of different lists out there with various bullet points of helpful hints. My favorite is "walk softly and carry a big stick," because many things can you not solve by walking softly and carrying a big stick. Damn near nothing.

But the basics of quicksand survival are as follows:

1. Remain Calm
2. Shed excess weight
3. Keep as still as possible until your feet reach solid ground
4. Move or swim with slow, deliberate motions.
5. Work in the direction of the last known bit of solid ground.
6.Pull yourself out.

As I read through this list, it seemed so fitting for these places in life where we struggle and feel nothing but sinking dread and despair. I thought about times in my life when I didn't know the answers, couldn't hear God's guiding, felt angry or confused, and generally wanted to give up, throw in the towel, call it a day, or take my ball and go home. What would happen if I had simply:

Remained calm: reminded myself that in this moment I was breathing in and then breathing out with perfectly timed rhythm...that right here, right now, I am O.K...

Shed excess weight: cast aside the things that were weighing me down...said no to overwhelming commitments, asked for help, called a friend, or asked God to bear the burden...

Kept as still as possible: not made decisions out of fear, waited for God's timing, been patient with the possibilities, asked for understanding, or prayed for confirmation and wisdom...

Moved with slow deliberate motions: lived intentionally instead of reactively, moved forward with purpose, been driven by a spirit of direction instead of chaos...

Worked toward the last known bit of solid ground: remembered God's real presence in my life and invited that back to me instead of floundering on my own, centered my spirit instead of living in urgency, allowed God to find me instead of looking, hunting, scavenging...

Pulled myself the arms of grace instead of by my own will...

What would have happened? And what might happen in the future if when I'm stuck, sinking, floundering, and the world is crashing down that I remember these tips for survival? Will the muck and the mire win?

Or, like the zebra, will I find myself safely heading home?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Peaks and Valleys and Turning 30

In 14 days I turn 30. I always thought I would dread this time in my life, because isn't that what people are supposed to do to mourn the death of their twenties? But I can't wait to walk through this particular doorway. I feel like my twenties have been one giant ball of confusion, a misstep at life almost. And while I'm meeting 30 with a new bag of questions to explore, I'm excited about what's next. While life is still a question mark to me, I feel that the grit and grind of life is slowly being sifted away, like I have survived the pain and the hurdles, like I am standing on the peak of the mountain of my youth.
During the summer of 2000, I participated in a summer mission project in South Lake Tahoe, California. The summer involved a lot of spiritual growth, learning to share the gospel, and working in the area. Some of the students I was on project with had cool jobs like working at the Ponderosa Ranch where they had filmed the show Bonanza. Others got to work on the Tahoe Queen, a local riverboat.
I worked at McDonald's.

Not only did I work at McDonald's, but the location of our camp was about 6 miles from the store that I worked at. My car was in Tennessee. So I purchased a bicycle, and 5 days a week I rode 6 miles to McDonald's, took orders for burgers and fries for 5 or 6 hours, and then rode 6 miles back to camp. Now, I guess if you have to ride your bike to and from work, doing it in the beautiful city of Lake Tahoe isn't all that bad, because every day on the way home from work this was my view:

This is Mt. Tallac. It's the tallest mountain peak in Lake Tahoe at 3, 250 ft. It's known for it's "snow cross" which you can see here to the left of the mountain's summit. Even in the heat of the summer, the snow is visible in the cross shaped crevice, and all summer long I got to gaze at this beautiful creation.

However, in all the time I was gazing at this thing...I never thought I'd actually climb it.

All summer, a large portion of our group talked about climbing Tallac. The climbing rating by the United States Forest Service is "difficult" which means that it is a day's hike that should not be done alone and also should probably not be done by someone who gets winded walking up a steep flight of stairs. However, it doesn't require ropes or any kind of rock climbing experience. It's just a strenuous hike. A strenuous 5 mile, straight up the damn mountain, kind of hike. One day towards the end of the summer talking about hiking the mountain turned into actually doing it, and I found myself putting on my tennis shoes with two pairs of socks and packing a sack lunch.

Have I mentioned that I don't really enjoy hiking? There are bugs. And it is hard. And there is nothing to look at but nature. And it is hard. And after about 15 minutes, nature is boring. is hard.

But I went. And after about 15 minutes, nature was boring, and I was tired of looking at my doubled socked feet. And I was getting nervous, because looking up to see how far there was left to go meant tipping your head all the way back until the bones in the back of your neck popped and being met with the sight of a 3,250 ft MOUNTAIN. But peer pressure is a funny thing, and because everyone else seemed to be enjoying hiking the big damn mountain, I put on my best "this is awesome" face and kept going. And going. And going. And going. For about 5 hours. There were bugs. It was hot. Phrases like "I can't do this" and "What was I thinking" and "I'm never going to make it" flashed through my mind on repeat. The landscape of the mountain turned from wildflowers and pebbles to evergreen and boulder. It got colder. I put on my fleece pullover and marveled at a family of deer. We stopped for a water break. And then we started climbing again. Up and up and up. And bit by bit by bit. And eventually I didn't have to tip my head so far back to see the peak of the mountain, because a little at a time, the peak of the mountain was getting closer. And closer. And closer. And then, I climbed over a giant rock, with patches of snow on the ground around me, and just like that, the peak of the mountain had come to meet me.

The top of the mountain was rocky, and our group began to snap pictures of the view below us.

It was breathtaking. Any way you turned you saw something spectacular. Emerald Bay and Fallen Leaf Lake were tiny from thousands of feet away, and I felt sorry for the people below us who were oblivious to the beauty that was escaping them from the safety of sea level. Standing on the the patch of rocky earth that formed the peak of that mountain was like being in such intimate conversation with God. Almost like he was letting me in on one of his many secrets, like he was giving me a glimpse of how big He was without ever saying a word. There was a deafening quiet on the top of that mountain, and I became so absorbed by the silence that I forgot every moment of "I can't do this" and "What was I thinking" and "I'll never make it." I forgot about the heat and the bugs and the hours that it took to get there. I forgot about the aches in my legs and the blisters on my feet, and the fact that my lunch had long ago abandoned me. All I heard was the silence of God's voice in my spirit saying "You did it. This is yours."

That single moment of peace was worth all of the pain and suffering and labor and effort it took to get there. Because for a brief moment in time, the world stood still, peace lived within me,
and God and I were on the same page of the story and the same peak of the mountain.

Turning 30 takes me back to that moment, because for all of the "What was I thinkings" and the "I'll never make its," I have found myself at the peak of my youth. Looking back, I remember the pain and the lost footing, and the longing to turn around and go back home. So many times felt like failure, and so many times felt like shame. But now that I am on the verge of living my better life, there is peace in this place. I can appreciate where I am, because I know where I have been. I can look back on the journey and say

"I did it. This is mine."

Friday, January 14, 2011

The One About Marriage....

So far I'm 0 for 2 on this whole marriage thing, which is, at the least slightly irritating, and at the most unbearably heartbreaking. Most days I occupy a small bit of space somewhere between the two, because that seems to be the easiest place to fly under the radar. It's also where acceptance and new beginnings frolic exhaustively with denial and self interesting little game of freeze tag to say the least.

In the past month or so, there has been a tugging in my spirit for some peace about my history with marriage. It probably has something to do with the fact that I'm dating whom I believe to be one of the most precious human beings on the planet. And it probably has something to do with the fact that I would someday like to have more children. And it might just have something to do with the fact that I truly believe I will be a blessing as a wife to the right person. And, while we're just might have something to do with the fact that I've spent the last 2+ years studying the ins and outs of relationships and how to give and take and make things work.

But combine all of those desires with two very misguided marriages and you get a girl who is a little (VERY) gun shy when it comes to the logistics of "til death do you part." Is it really possible for two flawed human beings to stay together and do so happily for THE REST OF THEIR LIVES?

I went into both of my marriages with the best of intentions, but the worst of reasons. I was in love. Well....I was in love the first time. I don't really know what I was the second time actually. Stupid, definitely. In love? Not so much. But the first time, I married someone that I believed (and still believe in a different way) that I had a soul connection with. At the time, I would have said we were soul mates. Our journey had multiple twists and turns prior to our marriage, but there seemed to be some kind of magnetic force that kept pulling us back together. Our relationship made no sense, but at the time, I couldn't see NOT being with him. I loved him, and I don't really question that for a time in his life he really loved me. We were young and impulsive and knew nothing of shattered dreams and broken promises. Our world was filled with possibilities and plans and the naive desires of two kids who were oblivious to the harsh reality that they had everything to lose. We spent a small number of years fumbling our way through "marriage" and then a more recent number of years trying to figure out how to not be married anymore. And somewhere in the mess of it all, this person that I knit my life to, though he really hasn't changed all that much, has turned into someone that I kind of know but barely recognize. The pieces of our story don't quite fit together anymore, but our child shuffles between them as proof that at one point in time there was a story to tell. It's like when a word or a sound or a taste or a smell triggers a memory so poignant that you find yourself reliving it, and yet at the same time you somehow managed to forget that the memory was ever there at all.

And then, for some reason I can boil down only to brokenness, I remarried someone who 90% of the time I didn't even like. It's weird what pain can make you do.

So here I am at the most intense level of introspection that I think I am capable of about to dig into the history of marriage in order to learn more about what made it work, what made it fail, and historically why people got married before "love" got involved. This process involves a lot of google searches and a book that I am about to go purchase and read fervently with my highlighter poised and ready to go. I've already discovered that the concept of marriage for love is in its infancy while "hey, I'll marry her because she has a goat" is the more historically accepted measure of marital success. I figure somewhere in between those two I'll find a wealth of healthy building blocks for marriage, and hopefully a little bit of peace and healing.

Because if I'm ever to do this again and feel good about it, it can't be just about love. And lord knows there's no room in this house for a goat. So here goes nothing....

Dearly beloved, brace yourself for impact.