trying hard

To all my fellow members of the try-hard club,

trying hard this Monday morning

to love,

to serve, 

to help,

to understand,

to be responsible,

to make it better because it desperately needs to be better,

or just to make it through the day.

We all need to remember this:  we are not in charge.

And that is okay.

It really is okay.  We know that deep down.  

We need to bring our not-in-chargeness to the front of our minds,

and hold it there like a hug.

Let it relieve us and set us free.

We are not in charge.

Love is in charge.

Love is in charge, and we are not.

 photo:  Michael Bruner

photo:  Michael Bruner

Let the knowledge of Love, the experience of Love,

fill us up every minute of today, and bring us

courage,

strength,

serenity,

and the hope to remember that

no matter what happens,

we are safe,

in Love.

We are safe, and all of ours.

So hold my hand, and I'll hold yours.  

Hold on tight.

We'll walk through this day together.

Safe in Love.

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no man's land

This year has been tough for me so far.  

I'm not ready to tell all the stories yet.  I'm not sure I'll ever be ready to tell all these stories.

But I can tell you how I feel.  

Tired.

Sad.

Scared.

I wonder.  

I grieve.

I pray to see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

That's just kind of how it is right now.

Probably not by accident, at this same time, I've been working on final revisions of The Book.  

You know The Book.  

The memoir of my breakdown and healing and all the grace found in strange places along the way.

The memoir where I talk about how God takes the stinkiest, smelliest, worst manure piles of life and redeems.

That book.

 photo:  Andy Bruner

photo:  Andy Bruner

If there was anybody who needed to read that book through 157 times this spring, it was me, I guess.

Because in that book I've written about all the times when I was just at The End, and how God met me in every one of those places, and how his love carried me through.

There are many days right now when I feel like I am at the end of myself again.  

I just don't know what to do.  I can't make things better.  I just have to wait.

And somehow, God continues to meet me in those places and carry me through this strange and scary no man's land.

The other night, I heard this song on the radio, and I fell in love with these words:  

Life can be hard, and hard can be good.

Because that is a truth that I know in my heart.  Hard can be amazing.

Some of the hardest things in my life have been redeemed into the best things in my life.

And the Owner of that process loves me and mine and you and yours with an Everlasting Love.

I cling to that. 

And I wait, like we wait for the roadside wildflowers in Texas every spring, for beautiful things to happen in no man's land.

He took his chances and he ran 
Out from the hills to no mans land 
Oh my lord life was hard, back then 

Oklahoma sky was his roof. 
Tore into the earth it brought him food 
Oh my lord, life was hard back then 

He said oh, 
Life can be hard 
But oh, 
Hard can be good 
So he built his home where no one else would 

I follow in his footsteps in my dreams 
Memories of my old bedtime stories. 
Oh my lord, life seemed good back then 

He said oh, 
Life can be hard but 
Oh, 
Hard can be good 
And he built his home where no one else would 

I felt my heart beat! 
I filled my lungs deep 
In no mans land 
And then like my forefathers I took a chance

credits

No Man's Land, from Darkest Hours, released 14 January 2014 

Songwriter: Wheeler Sparks

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one thing i know for sure about parenting

I felt pretty confident as a parent when I was younger.  This I attribute to a number of factors.

  • I was 23 years old and I didn't have a clue.  Ignorance was, as they say, bliss.
  • I was the eldest of 7 children.  There was always a baby in the house.  I knew what to do with little kids.  Feed, change, sleep, repeat.  Snuggle, read books, play, repeat.
  • I thought that if you did everything right, then your kids would turn out right.  (Having failed, apparently, to check out the first few chapters of Genesis where God parents the first two humans and they go completely off the rails.)

Now I'm 47, and in the process of all this parenting, I have become a whole lot less confident of my capacity to make things work out right, because:

  • I don't have as much control as I wish I did.
  • My kids all came standard with free will.  Part of the factory installation package.
  • The whole big, broken world full of pain and sorrow is out there, and I can't keep it from hurting my babies.

Don't get me wrong, there's a bunch of stuff I think is important, when it comes to parenting.

Do justice.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly.

Apologize.  Laugh.  Rest.

Balance that freedom and responsibility thing with your kids, one developmental stage at a time.

And, while you're spinning all those plates:  deal with your own junk.

(Maybe you're not sure if you have junk that needs to be dealt with, but this is your lucky day.  I have created a handy-dandy assessment tool that will let you know, for sure, if you have junk or not.  Here it is:  Are you a human being?  If the answer is yes, then you have junk.  If the answer is no, welcome to our planet and enjoy your stay.)

But at the end of the day, my perfect parenting (which exists only the realm of pure fantasy) guarantees pretty much zippola.

My kids get to choose.

And other people get to choose.

And all those things collide out there in the real world.

Which leaves me in a place that sometimes feels pretty scary.

But, in the process of learning that my parenting capacity is woefully limited, I have experienced this other one whole beautiful thing, for sure.

Here it is.

1.  God is at work, and His love never fails.

When I have failed as a parent.

When my kids have made bad choices.

When other people have made bad choices.

No matter what.

God is at work, and His love never fails.

This is one of those things that we know to be true in our heads, because the Bible tells us so.

But I've also found it to be true in my heart these past few years.  I've lived through it now, and I know that I know that I know.

The best and most amazing transformations, both in my own life and the lives of my children?  Those have come when I could not.  

When I could not do one more thing.

I had tried and tried and tried and fixed and fixed and fixed and I just could not.

And then God.

(This probably surprises one whole person.  Me.)

I'm thinking about this now, because tomorrow is college move-in day.

And I just need to remind myself of what I know for sure.

God has been at work.  He will be at work.  

His love never fails.

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it never hurts to be vulnerable

I heard my husband say this to one of our kids on the phone a couple of days ago: "It never hurts to be vulnerable."

(Things I Love About My Husband, Number 4,682)

We talked about it later, and I said, "But that's why we're not vulnerable.  Because we're afraid that it will hurt us."

And we talked about the fear we have of losing a relationship if we say something that might not be acceptable to the other person.

What if we hit that person's hot button on politics or abortion or homosexuality or gun control?

What if we use a word they don't like?

What if they want something and we don't?

What if we're vulnerable, and they reject us?

We concluded that if we're not vulnerable, we don't have a real relationship anyway.  

We might have the illusion of a relationship.  

But it's not a real relationship, if we can't be vulnerable and still be acceptable.

Mike Yaconelli puts it like this:  "People who pretend, have pretend relationships."

So.  If you want real, it never hurts to be vulnerable.

But.  If you haven't had a lot of practice being vulnerable, or if there is something you experience as deep and dark and shameful, and if you've gotten a lot of messages from your nearest and dearest about how important it is to be perfect--well, being vulnerable can feel like a big huge leap into the abyss.

Pretend relationships seem like better than no relationships, when we're standing on the edge of that cliff.

And this is where I would say, find somebody who is safe and start to be vulnerable.  

For many of us, a safe place for vulnerability might be a counselor or a pastor or a close friend.  It could be a Celebrate Recovery group, Alcoholics Anonymous, or AlAnon.

Some of us have tried being vulnerable, only to have it blow up in our faces.

We got told to read our Bibles more.  To pray better.  To just stop it, because Christians don't do those things.

And here is another genius thought from my husband.

He says what if you had a leaky toilet, and you got a handyman to come and fix it.  But instead of fixing it, he made it worse and left you with a geyser in your bathroom instead of a simple little leak.

You would not conclude that toilets could not be fixed.

You would conclude that the guy was an idiot, and then call in somebody reputable.

But when it comes to emotional stuff, when we reach out for help and find ourselves dealing with idiots (and there are lots of them out there, so it's inevitable), somehow we conclude that nobody could possibly love and accept us, and that our emotional world is broken beyond hope of redemption, and we must die lost and alone.  (We catastrophize in these situations, you know we do.)

Of course emotional risks are the big ones.

But they are also the most rewarding, when they pay off.  And I think the pay off is worth trying--again and again and again, if you have to--until you find other people who get it.

Who are sick of pretend.

Who want to be real.

Who know that it never hurts to be vulnerable.

Because the weird thing about vulnerability is that it seems like weakness at the time, admitting how bad things are.  But once you've told the truth, the lies don't control you any more.  There's freedom.  Power.

The truth sets you free.  

Somebody said that once, and it appears to actually be true.

Over the past couple of years, I have developed a teensy little addiction to TED Talks.  A couple of my favorites are Brene Brown's talks on vulnerability and shame.  She's funny, she's real, she's so worth listening to.  So here you go.  (One of my favorite lines is, "We're falling apart and it feels great!")

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0]

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float

I am a visual learner.  And I almost always have a mental image that represents my current emotional state. I've talked before about seeing myself in a dugout canoe, alone, paddling hopelessly for shore.

And the panic and thrashing that ensued when the canoe went down, ten years ago now.

In fact, that was one of the first posts I wrote when I started this blog a couple of years ago.

I shared this poem by Philip Booth, and it remains one of my favorite things.

First Lesson

Lie back, daughter, let your head

be tipped back in the cup of my hand.

Gently, and I will hold you.  Spread

your arms wide, lie out on the stream

and look high at the gulls.  A dead-

man's-float is face down.  You will dive

and swim soon enough where this tidewater

ebbs to the sea.  Daughter, believe

me, when you tire on the long thrash

to your island, lie up, and survive.

As you float now, where I held you

and let go, remember when fear

cramps your heart what I told you:

lie gently and wide to the light-year

stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

It just seems to be that time of year, when a lot of us are on the long thrash.

It's like that for me, anyway.

I get distracted, I start to panic, and then I remember.

You've been here before.

You know how it works.

Lie back.

Float.

The sea will hold you.

 

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An Anatomy of Redemption: The Lesson

On Easter Sunday morning 2001, we got up early to watch the sunrise over the coast of Papua New Guinea. We went out in the dark and we sang songs and read Scriptures.  But as the sky got lighter, we saw that it was completely overcast with clouds.  Everything was kind of gloomy and gray.  As million-dollar-view ocean sunrises went, it was pretty disappointing.

So I stood there.  Pouting on the hill because the sun wasn't shining.

And then I started to realize that the sun IS shining.  What I see is clouds all over.  Dark and disappointing.  But the sun is still doing its thing, even though I can't see it.

(They called me Einstein in school.)

But here's what I've been pondering recently.

I don't have to "have faith" or "trust and obey" about the sun still shining.

I KNOW THE SUN IS SHINING.

And it would be completely crazy to think otherwise.

The sun is totally predictable.  It comes up every morning and goes down every night.  I, and billions of others, have experienced this without fail and know that it is true.

So.  The incredible value of experience.

People say to me, "What am I supposed to be learning in this mess?  I wish I could figure it out and get it over with!"

And I've learned all kinds of things in my messes.  Things I know God wanted me to learn.  I've had truths to face about myself and my motivations.  Forgiveness to extend to those who hurt me.  Abundance to offer out of what I have received.

But more than anything, my experience teaches me that this is true:

Lo, I am with you always.  Even to the end of the world.

Many, many of us have had our worlds end.

I have dear, darling friends who have been called upon to deal with way more than any human being should have to cope with.

Disease and death and abuse that results in overwhelming loss and grief.

But the Shepherd of my soul doesn't chuck a huge load on me and walk off to let me handle it until I learn my lesson.

He says:  This world is full of trouble.  Don't be ignorant about that.  But take courage.  I have overcome the world.

He says:  Come to me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

For all of us who wander, afraid and alone, and wish for home, he says:  I have prepared a place.  And I will come, and I will take you there, and you will be perfectly at home with Me.

However our world has ended, Jesus is there.

And those of us who have walked through the dark places?  We know.  We know that we know that we know.

Job, the innocent sufferer, said this, "I had heard about you before.  But now I have seen you with my own eyes."  (Job 42:5)

The story is not over.  He has loved us with an everlasting love.  Our names are written on the palms of His hands.  Just like a nursing mother cannot forget her child, He cannot forget us.

And whatever else you might be learning in your valley, know this for sure:

"You are precious to me.  You are honored, and I love you."  (Isaiah 43: 4)

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this is my father's world

This is my son-in-law's instagram for today.  (Thanks, Kevin.) It's perfect for Father's Day.

And it's perfect to start a week of considering the possessions I think of as mine.

This is my Father's world.

Every good and perfect gift comes from Him.

He is God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, infinite in wisdom, power, and love, whose mercy is over all His works, and whose will is ever directed to His children's good.  (Thanks, liturgy dudes.)

I know this is true:  I don't have to hang onto my stuff and be worried about it, because this is my Father's world.  He's got me covered.

But this is easier said than done.  I like this stuff that I think is mine.  What if I can't find another one like it when I need it later?  (This is the question I anticipate dealing with many times as I clean out stuff this week.)

So to remind myself that God's got it under control, here's what happened during Lent 2005.

We had moved to Dallas in 2003 after 10 years in the South Pacific.  I was shredded emotionally and physically, and desperately needed a place to rest and recover.  We found the perfect house for us, and settled down to nest.  After a couple of years, we were OK to go again.

Well, I wasn't super-OK, but I was OK-ish.  Willing to try again, anyway.

But Andy and I had a disagreement over our perfect house and what we should do.  I wanted to keep it and rent it.  He wanted to sell it.  So Lent rolled around and we still had this disagreement.

We used to do this thing on Ash Wednesday (which is the beginning of Lent) where we'd write whatever we were giving up on an index card, and then go up front and nail it to the cross.

So, during the service, I was asking God what I should give up for Lent.  Hoping the answer would be something like sugar.

Instead, the answer was:  "The house.  You need to give up the house."

So that was what I wrote on the card and nailed to the cross.

I was very sad.

I really liked my house.  I figured I would need it later.

But Andy felt strongly that we should sell.  And I felt like God was asking me to trust that He did love me and would take care of me.

I don't really think Andy and I talked about it much after that.  But around Easter, he came to me and said that he felt we should keep the house instead of selling.  And that is what we did.

In 2007, we found that we did need it again.  We came back to Dallas and have lived here ever since.  Five whole years in one place, as of this summer.

This is my Father's world.  And His house, too.

Maybe He wants me to give things up.  Maybe He wants me to keep and enjoy them.

But either way, let me ne'er forget:  God is the ruler yet.

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In

these little wonders

So I was thinking about manna this week.  How it appeared to feed those who needed it, in the right place, at the right time, just the right amount.  How it couldn't be kept or hoarded.  How you had to gather what you needed right then and there, and go to bed and wait til tomorrow. I was thinking about manna because life lately has been just what I need.  Right place, right time, right amount.

Spring.  Flowers.  Butterflies.  Baby birds.  Friday night fireworks after the Rangers game.  Birthday parties and wedding showers and cookouts and laughter.

These small hours.  These little wonders.

And how I would love to hoard them all.  To trap them, keep them, lock them up.

But I know what I really need to do.  Love these moments, savor them, receive them with gratitude, gather them up for today.  Then lie down and sleep, and wait til tomorrow becomes today, and the manna comes again.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsT2URr1Igc]

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get real

Mike Yaconelli says that so many times we are pretending in relationships.  And when we're pretending, we're relating to each other on the basis of who we are not. I think that is such a profoundly challenging thought.  How many times am I, for whatever reason, pretending?  And then relating to other people based on who I am not?  And even relating to God on the basis of who I am not?

When I pretend to myself, we call that denial.

When I pretend to someone else, we call that...hmm...being nice?

Honesty is not all that easy.  Human beings have a long history of throwing on the fig leaves and running for cover.

I have to know I am safe and loved, in order to be honest.  I think most of us have a problem with knowing that we're safe and loved.  We all have those sneaking insecurities, those what-ifs, those little anxieties that keep us covering up.

And instead of real relationships, we end up with pretend.

The thing is, everybody loves a fairy tale.  We all want to live in a palace with the prince, happily ever after.  With the birds and the squirrels doing all the housework.  Pretend looks like the happiest place on earth.

Until it's not.

And then we have to fight our way out of a lifetime of pretend, to step out into the light of real and true and honest.  As challenging and difficult as that fight may be, it's a fight worth fighting.  Because it will set us free.

Free of who we are not.

We are not strong and brave and competent and together and perfect and cheerful and smiling all the time.  Honestly?  That is a horrible burden to bear.

The truth is, we are broken and scared and impaired and tired and needy and sad and anxious and depressed sometimes.  And we need to be in relationships that can handle the honesty of our humanity.

God knows all these things about us, and He loves us.  All the time.  We are the ones who pretend, and keep ourselves slaving away in the far country.

When we know God loves us, we can take a chance on the people around us.  Find the ones who celebrate our "no," and who love our limits, but who see our strengths, and encourage us to keep growing.  Who make it safe for us to stop pretending.  Who make it possible for us to be free.

Who join us in relationships that are all about who we are.

Broken.  Scared.  Sad.  Tired.

Human.  Unique.  Precious.  Beloved.

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