Everything is Important.”

— Walter Tirey Jr.

"I write because there are some stories
it would be a crime not to tell."

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There Is Something I Need to Tell You 

 

I have a great poker face. And no, not learned through playing poker. I would lose my hand for sure. I don't know when I developed the ability, a gift from God, as a friend of mine labeled it. Maybe. Or maybe a side effect of incarceration and working with those in the prison system (where you hear it all and see it all and just when you think you can’t be shocked anymore, surprise again). I also worked for years as a nurse and in the field of social work, where tough conversations often take place. Where the most intimate thing you could disclose to a person often gets revealed. You learn over time not to let your face and your feelings communicate. 

So when she made her way sheepishly to the front of the room to talk to me and prefaced the conversation with “There is something I need to tell you,” my posture shifted just slightly with a silent reminder to prepare myself. She was about to disclose her “worst thing.” That moment from her past that she can’t leave there. The one she relives and replays like lyrics you’re sick of hearing, but can’t get out of your head. The part that causes her shoulders to slump and her eyes to hold sorrow that is visible even when she smiles. 

She needed to say it out loud and let it hang in the air between us. I could see the hint of fear in her eyes, and if the room had been a little more silent, I would have heard the racing beat of her heart. She thought she needed to tell me her worst thing. 

And the realization of what she really needed made my own eyes well with tears. It was the question behind the question. Not really about that terrible moment from her past. Deeper rooted. Carried from her childhood. Longing to be answered. 

Do you accept me? Am I still worthy of love? 

We live in a society of selective mercy. We subconsciously decide in our minds who is worthy of compassion and who is just a tad too far beyond it. And it’s a dangerous thing to decide something that is not ours to judge. 

I began to pray years ago that God would help me love people the way that He does and to break my heart for the things that break His. I will never perfect it in this lifetime. Not even close. There are times I wrestle with forgiveness. There are times I experience compassion fatigue. There are times I want to return evil for evil. Or to spew some venomous response when one is doled out to me or someone else. 

But I answered her question anyway. I responded from a place deep within that has already made up my mind that I don’t get a vote. A place that has firmly decided that it’s not my determination to make. There is no debating. No wondering. No dialing up a friend to consult. No tallying the wrongs to see if someone has crossed the line too far. 

It’s a place that God has answered in my own heart. When I fell too far from grace, or so I thought. When I had run too far from home, too far from warnings that I ignored, too far from the advice of my parents. I used to dislike the story of the prodigal son until I became the prodigal. Until I squandered the blessings I had been given and made a terrible mess of things. 

 

You see, that’s the thing I’ve learned. People often judge others with the same measure they use on themselves. Harshly and with little mercy. They perceive God’s posture towards them as one that is ashamed of their mistakes or their very existence, with His arms folded and His back turned. And nothing could be further from the truth. He is more like that parent that paces the floor waiting for the phone to ring. He leaves the porch light on and the door unlocked. He never ever even thinks of giving up on your return to the realization that you are loved and worthy and nothing could change that. Like the time I saw a photo of my son on social media and I could see his seeking of affirmation. The longing for everything he already is. Deeply loved and worthy.  And there is nothing he could do, or say, or think that will ever make me love him any less. 

So I looked her square in the eye and answered the question she was really asking. 

"There is nothing you could ever tell me that would make me love you any less." 

And contrary to what society thinks or what we've been taught to believe, that is how God feels about us all. Even that person who seems the least deserving of mercy.

A Letter To Yourself 

When we think about love (as one often does on a day like today when your social media feed is blown up with reminders), our mind usually goes directly to Eros love, the romantic type. Our mind equates that love is communicated with lavish gifts and dreamy proposals and bouquets of flowers. Movies like Sleepless in Seattle or The Notebook or the one-liner from Jerry McGuire that we all know, “you had me at hello.” 

And all of those things are great expressions of love and I would be lying if I told you that I don’t love gifts. This girl definitely does. But I have also learned through the great teacher of time and heartbreak and healing that true love is the kind that returns you to yourself. 

What do I mean by that? 

We do an exercise with the inmates in our music therapy program where we instruct them to write a letter to their younger self. In other words, if you could sit down with that six-year-old version of yourself with the bangs your sister cut and the missing tooth and eyes still full of optimism and hope, what would you say? 

 

What we often find in the responses is a love letter written to self. Gentle words are written from a place of compassion and remembering. A reminder of how beautiful and strong and capable you really are and always were, before life and the competing noise of the world told you otherwise. How often the things that happened to you were not your fault, and even if they were the result of your own choosing, the acknowledgment that you are human and what matters most is that you learn and try again. 

We live in a world full of people living from a well of their experiences. And it’s a mix of clear and murky water. A mix of some who were fortunate to have been loved well and to have felt emotional security and a large pool of those who were not. Of those who were dropped and bruised and cut and who operate out of those experiences.  

As the famous rapper Phora says in one of his lyrics: “I ain’t never had nobody love me. That’s probably why I don’t know how to love you.” 

Real love is the type that God operates from. A well of Agape love, unconditional and to which there is no ceiling, no bottom, no limit. Without prerequisite. Not a kind that says “I love you if…” or “I love you until…” but “I love you because I love you because I love you. And there is nothing you could do to make me stop.” 

I’ve sought love in the wrong places before. In relationships. In materialism. In my appearance. In my performance. In the opinion of others. All of those were dead-end places that only took me further away from my true self and into the shallowness of who I allowed them to tell me to be. 

Healthy love returns you to yourself. Back to that place of wholeness. Back from the places of lies and shame that you’ve wandered to and believed. Back to the realization that there is nothing you can do in this life that will make you any more or any less worthy of love.

I Wish I Had Known 

 

The first time I drank coffee, I was sitting in the recreational room of a correctional facility surrounded by double razor wire in the middle of cornfields as far as the eye could see. A city called Marysville. “Aunt Mary’s house,” we called it when talking to my three-year-old at the time. The big house with tall gates and the room with vending machines and the play area where you get to see mommy. I am not sure how you explain prison to a child that young, but it was the only way I knew how to at the time and in times of trauma and grief, you just do the best you can. I couldn’t have said any of that five years ago. Too painful. Like a rocky edged cliff that if I dare glance over, I might slip into all-consuming grief. There will be more about this in my book to come, but for now, we’re talking about coffee. 

“Big Baby” was the friend that kindly introduced me to coffee for the first time. I don’t know why they called her that. Everyone in this new environment seemed to have a name other than their actual name. Maybe it was part of inner city life. Maybe it was because your birth name is replaced by a number once you are sentenced. Maybe because she had supermodel height and was the youngest in her family. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and so I never asked her. I also never called her by that name. I called her by her birth name, and maybe that’s why we were instant friends despite all of our differences. She rode out of the county jail and into the prison the same day that I did. The windows were frosted and fogged in that sardine packed van of women shackled to each other at wrist and feet, our arms interlocked like an awkward marital procession. We couldn’t see where we were going or where we were carried from. Perhaps that was a blessing at the time. 

“Taste this,” she said. So I tilted that chilled cup of butterscotch colored liquid back and gave it a whirl. It was loads of French vanilla creamer with way too much sugar and a bit of instant coffee. But my naive taste buds didn’t know the difference, and so it tasted good at the time. From that day forward, I was a coffee drinker. My love of coffee has evolved a lot since that day. French press preferred. Light roast. A hint of sugar. A small amount of almond milk. Perfection

When I think back to that day with Big Baby, and my first go-round with coffee, I wish I had known this: 

I wish I had known there would come a day when I would be able to talk about my story and not feel like I wanted to die from the pain. 
I wish I had known that the place of my suffering, that compound of nearly two-thousand women, would completely transform my heart and my life. 
I wish I had known that some of the greatest lessons I’d ever learn would be learned through their stories and eventually told through my voice. 
I wish I had known that Big Baby was making my journey easier. Evidence of God’s kindness toward me through friendship. Proof that I was never really alone. 
I wish I had known there wasn’t a single thing I could do to make God love me more, or like me any less. 
I wish I had known that just a few years down the road, my life would contain more beauty than my heart could hold. A marriage that would heal me. A daughter that would remind me that God answers with hope. A ministry birthed from tragedy. A coffee shop we would open that employs people that others view as disqualified. 
I wish I had known….
 

My husband told our son’s something the other day, and maybe you need to hear it too. 

“Every time that you walk into this coffee shop, I want you to remember that anything is possible.” 

Anything

I prayed so many half-hearted prayers back then. I wanted to believe and God in His infinite compassion knew that. He knew the issues in my heart that stood in the way. He knew my grief and shame. But He saw my willingness to at least dare to ask. 

“Here are the pieces. Please rebuild this broken life.” 

And it was all the invitation He needed.

The Little Things That Feel Unseen 

 

I cleaned the bathroom of the entrance building at Dayton Correctional for three years. And it was a position of honor. At that time I was a ward of the state after a tragic drinking and driving fatality that landed me incarcerated for six years and brought worlds of sorrow. It was an honor to have access and proximity to the outside world. To be entrusted with a freedom beyond the tight restrictions of the control center. Four steel doors that only open one at a time and only at the command of an officer behind a glass enclosure reinforced with bars.  

I did it joyfully and like it was the most important job on the compound because I knew it was entrusted to me and that entrustment was deeply healing to my shame. I also knew that it was only a temporary stop on my journey. I knew that my scrubbing those toilets well was as important to God as the position of the Warden and all his officials. I knew that as I watched people being released to the embrace of their children and families that my current reality was not the way it would always be. I would watch with a lump in my throat and a prayer in my heart for their safety and for their lives to be rebuilt beyond those gates. And those prayers went out with each of them, rippling far beyond what I will ever know on this side of things. 

If you follow my spouse and me on social media, then you know that this past week, we released a video about a dream birthed in our hearts. Soon, we will open a Coffee Shop in our community to employ those that others deem unemployable because of their past. That vision has been cast wide and broad, with dreams already stirring of what the shop can look like beyond serving coffee and the possibility of eventually opening Coffee Shops in multiple locations. The video has been viewed more times than we ever imagined, shared more than we could have hoped for, and the outpouring of support and encouragement has been more than we can honestly keep up with. We are saturated with gratitude.  

 

Isn't this logo THE best?! 

This past Tuesday we showed the video to the men and women in the two local prisons where we do a weekly Music Therapy program. At the end of our time there, I watched my husband push a cart loaded with sound gear in the bitter cold up a long maze to exit the prison. The same maze I shoveled more times than I care to remember in the middle of the night when I was summoned to do so. It also was part of my job while there.  

When he got to the top, he looked at me and said “this is why that video has so many views. It has nothing to do with the video footage or what we said. It’s because of this.” 

He didn’t have to explain. I knew what he meant. It’s fifteen years of doing the work with little support or recognition. It’s fifteen years of driving hours in the car. It’s going even when you really didn’t have the gas or the money to refill. No matter the weather. No matter what is going on in your personal life. No matter if you feel like going or if you don’t. Even when others didn’t see the value the way you did. It’s the fact that even if others never saw the value, you would still continue to show up. 

God cares immensely about the little things because God cares most about the heart. And we are only able to do the little things consistently when our heart is in the right posture. He cares about the things no one else sees you doing. He cares when you return your cart instead of letting it hit another car. He cares about that piece of trash you pick up, so someone else doesn’t have to, and so it doesn’t harm the environment we have been entrusted to care for. He cares about being kind to people who can do nothing for you in return. He cares about how you treat your waitress and how you treat the girl ringing up your groceries who appears to have no social skills. 

The big things don't matter at all if we don't regard the little ones as mattering greatly. Know that God sees you.  

He sees you in the middle of your moments that feel unseen. He sees you wiping snotty noses with tenderness. He sees the heaps of laundry you fold as you pray breath prayers. He sees you when you can barely pay your bills and still give where you can. In all of those little things you do that feel insignificant and as though they have no glory, but they are done in love. 

They aren't little things at all. Everything is important.

Between Where We Are and Where We Are Headed 

"Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” 
— Mary Olive
r⁣ 

I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. Full disclosure? I couldn't even spell it correctly the first time I typed that out. If I were in a spelling bee or if my life depended on it, maybe. But not here. Not in this space. Not in this mundane and ordinary moment. I have always been the creative type. Doodling on college ruled notebooks while caught up in my own dreamy ideas and simultaneously listening to my teachers. A creative type with the need to be doing something with my hands. So I am the one most surprised by the fact that in the months ahead, my husband and I will unveil a new business venture that is a dream once conceived in our hearts, and now about to be birthed in our reality. The ability to dream and imagine creates room for what we once didn't see as possible. It's an exciting time needless to say. 

There is lots of prep work taking place. Budget planning and maximizing purchases made with numbers we have to work with. Listening to podcasts from experts in the field. Researching and visiting other businesses in the area. Taking mental notes of things we like and what we will do differently. The fun part of designing the space. Moving pictures from here because they look better over there and should we add a fig tree in that corner? We definitely should. Lots of green everywhere. 

I love these moments of planning and brainstorming ideas and doing the legwork to bring to fruition this dream of ours. But. There is also the middle and the mundane. There is still the waking up on a Wednesday morning in Ohio to a sky covered with gray and pouring rain. It was warm enough today to melt the snow, so there's that. There is still the going to work at my current job (the job before my dream job) where the elderly patients will ask how the baby is doing even though she is almost three (sidenote: time does fly and I'll forever be pregnant in their mind even though we've celebrated two birthdays and are halfway to our third. The pregnancy felt equally long. I get it.) There is still for my husband the process of coaching clients through choosing paint colors and taking over the wallpaper removal they thought they could handle themselves. There is still laundry (heaps and heaps) and pet care and cars that break down and all of the magnificent mundane on the way to this dream of ours. 

So how do we live out this quote, Mary Oliver? How do we find the magnificent in the mundane? 

There is a story in Genesis 28 about a guy named Jacob who is on a journey. On this journey, he comes to a point where the sun has gone down and I imagine by this point, he was probably exhausted from traveling by foot. With no memory foam pillow on which to lay his head, he uses a stone to rest on. I don't know about you, but I've been exhausted enough to do this before. Exhausted to the point where it was more painful to keep my eyes open than to lay down on a concrete slab and give way to sleep. I've seen people curled up in hard plastic seats in airport terminals with delayed flights. In the holding cells of county jails where you are detained for hours and sometimes, days. In waiting rooms of sterile hospitals. Hard places. The place between where you are and where you long to be. The in-between place of where you've left and the place you are headed to. And it's in this very place that God appears to him in a dream and when Jacob awakens, he says this: 

"Surely the Lord was in this place, and I was not aware of it." 

Surely. Is it possible that finding the magnificent in the mundane is linked directly to our awareness that God is in our midst? Even if you feel unaware and can't trace His presence or the reason for the delay. 

Even when the road feels long and winding and you feel as though you've made a few wrong turns along the way. Even though the kids are on repeat in the backseat asking if we are there yet. Even though the everyday tasks of normal life feel like drudgery. Even though what you are currently seeing in your reality doesn't at all look like the dream God placed in your heart. 

Take heart. Be still. Breathe deep. God is closer than you think. The One who gave you the dream will bring it to pass and not a moment too soon or too late. 

I look at my daughter as she is nestled in bed asleep, her hands tucked under her cheek in a picturesque moment. There is nowhere else in the world I'd rather be, I think to myself. I look at my son as he comes down the stairs with his pants pulled too high and a silly hat that looks like Paddington bear as he tries to make us laugh. And it works. I wake up still feeling sleepy and open my blinds in the morning to allow daylight to enter the house on this still gray sky in Ohio. I don't want to miss it. Any of it. 

I don't want to miss what is right in front of me while looking and longing for what is ahead. So I'll pay attention. I'll hold these dreams of mine loosely for the sake of holding firmly to where I actually am. 

In order to fully live life, you have to pay attention. And when you really pay attention with all of your heart and your senses, you'll be astonished. There is so much magnificent in the mundane.

An Invitation to the Table 

 

There is a slang term often used about being "woke." Maybe you've seen it behind a hashtag on social media. The term is way older than hashtags and can be traced back to the 1930s. Or at least that's what google search is telling me. It's an implication that a person is enlightened to something that the rest of us are not. Urban dictionary gives one example of its usage as this: 

"While you are obsessing with the Kardashians, there are millions of homeless in the world. STAY WOKE." It means being awake to discrimination, prejudices and other social injustices. 

As I write this, I hear this children's song replaying in my head: 

Are you sleeping?  
Are you sleeping? 
Brother John,  
Brother John? 
Morning bells are ringing.  
Morning bells are ringing. 
Ding, dong, ding.  
Ding, dong, ding. 

So now it's in your head too, and I'm sorry, but not sorry because there is a point to all of this. 

Sometimes in our everyday waking and breathing lives, we have been lulled to sleep. We are sleepwalkers in the light of day. The Walking Dead with a pulse. We punch the time clock. We stroll through the fluorescent lighting of Target. We choose the messy bun and the stretchy pants again. We fill our virtual grocery carts via click list. Lulled by our routines and monotony and whatever is most comfortable and most convenient.  

Hit snooze (repeat x10). Brush teeth. Fill the tea kettle with hot water and turn the stove on. Add 3 scoops of Starbucks blonde to the French press. Take the dog out. Tomorrow, I will do it again. If I am so fortunate. I am like one of those self-driving cars. As a side note, is anyone else terrified by that thought? Yea….me too.  

We are often on autopilot. Like predictive text. Like listening to a person you know better than you know yourself and knowing ahead of time what they are going to say because you could finish the sentence. Yes, they are going to tell that one story again

There is science behind it with 95% of our brain activity being beyond our conscious awareness. But there is a danger to it on the level of spiritual and emotional well being. 

There is a low level of complacency we easily slip into where we just accept whatever we are facing as our lot in life. It's a tactic of the enemy. Carefully devised and methodical. Strategic in the fact that it is so subtle, it goes unnoticed. It isn't cryptic. In fact, the more I think about it, it's rather obvious. The plan is this: lull them to sleep and convince them that there isn't more.  

His plan for our lives is threefold: Steal. Kill. Destroy. To steal our joy, vitality, energy, peace, and trust. To kill our dreams and the hope that the change we long for will come to pass. To destroy our relationships and our future, because if he can get us to a place of complacency, we remain stuck. We are asleep. We are anything but "woke." 

Think about it. If he can get you to accept whatever it is that you're facing as just being "the way things are," then that's also the way you are going to view circumstances in other people's lives.  

This apathy I feel is never going to lift. 
I am too broken to ever be whole. 
This addiction will always have control over me. 
My family will always struggle financially. 
This relationship will never be mended. 

Like I tell my thirteen-year-old when he is fighting to get up in the morning, and I've been to his room five times already, my urging escalating to a threat…." just sit up on the side of the bed." Rub the sleep from your eyes. Take a drink of cold water. Whatever you do, WAKE UP. 

My dog gets scolded when he searches for food that has been dropped under the table during meals by my two-year-old (usually it's her anyway). It's not that he's hungry. Don't feel sorry for him. And I don't expect him not to want something other than the dry and bland kibbles he is dished out twice a day. It's the noises he makes during his search party that get him scolded. This snorting and slurping sound that grates my nerves like nothing else. You just have to hear it for yourself to understand. My husband looked at his four-month-old white and furry cuteness and named him "Pig," a self-fulfilling prophesy for his bulldog self. Here's the point: Don't be like Pig. Don't search for scraps beneath the table. You are invited to an abundant feast with all of your favorite foods. 

"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows." Psalm 23:5 

from my fav children's book: The Crown on Your Head 

Whatever you do, don't buy into the lie. Don't drink the Kool-aid. Don't settle for this. Whatever your this is. Don't allow yourself to be lulled to sleep. There is so much more for your one and only life than this low-level lot that you have accepted. Let's abort this mission. Let's accept the invitation we have been given to the table of abundant life. 
 

There Is a Time to Heal 

 

I heard a wounded heart open its mouth and speak the other day in passing. A statement said with fear in the disguise of confidence. 

"You can't trust anyone." It said. 

For a moment I expected to turn and see someone who looked like a villain you might see in a movie scene where the character is sinister with ice blue eyes and an evil scheme in mind. But that wasn't the case at all. She was polished and petite and pretty.  

What a terrible way to live, I thought to myself. But I know that I too have built my own walls before. An expert bricklayer. Brick upon brick. Row by row.  A well-guarded fortress keeping others out and myself in.  

That's what happens when the heart doesn't fully heal. When there has been some infraction against it, a betrayal or a loss. It guards and protects from the thing that might be its undoing if it were to happen again. It opens the door when fear knocks, invites it in and makes it a bed. Stay awhile, won't you? Because if you do, you might protect me. 

It seems like wisdom, but it isn't wisdom at all. It's bitterness. Heavy and isolating and coloring everything you see with a dull shade of gray. 

You see, sometimes we think we've healed from that thing that hurt us so. From that unspeakable thing that happened when you were little. From that friend who decided never to have time anymore. From that person who promised to love you and then chose to love someone else. From that parent who told you-you would never amount to anything.  

I know you think you've healed by now. And you have. At least enough to survive it at the time. And now so much time has passed, and surely there must be an expiration date on wounds, isn't there? 

But the bandaid starts to lift because it can only hold for so long. And wounds in the heart eventually begin to raise too, rising closer and closer to the surface until they eventually seep out onto everyone around us.  

Drip.  

Drip.  

Drip.  

Spreading far and wide into our relationships and our perspective and the words we speak. 

You can only run so far from the truth. Eventually, anemia catches up to a hemorrhage. It robs your health and your strength and your ability to live. 

"You can't trust anyone." 

Oh but you can. 

And the time for healing has come. 

And if you allow it, The Great Physician will come. Because He knows what you need even when you don't. 

So be still now. Don't try to escape the process. It will only hurt worse if you do. It will only prolong the pain of healing. 

That cut you feel is the most perfect precision from a skilled surgeon to whom none other compares. Sometimes bones have to be reset to heal correctly. Sometimes old wounds have to be revisited in order to scar. 

I know it feels easier to allow things to remain the same. I know it does. 

But there is a time for your broken heart to be mended. There is a better way to live. 

 

Here's the truth that sometimes the wounded heart can't see. You can trust others. You can believe the best. Not everyone is going to hurt you the way one person did. The sky isn't going to fall. It does not always rain in Seattle. 

I pray that you will be healed. You deserve it. The people who love you deserve it. I pray that you will love others with your whole heart and not consider what it may cost you. Will you get hurt sometimes? Yes. A solid yes. But, love anyway. It's worth it. 

I'm so glad God didn't wait until I proved myself entirely trustworthy to love me. 

What area of your heart do you need healing in? Maybe for you, it's not trust, but insecurity, lack of self-worth, low expectations for good, or fear? Be brave and dig deep.

You Are Fully Known 

London, I'm coming for you.

 

Sometimes I feel like a human dichotomy. A division into two opposing categories of myself. 

Which might be why I struggle with personality tests. My answers are generally found somewhere in the middle.  

Either and neither.  

Torn between two versions of this person I know to be myself. 

Paul understood the struggle when he said, "For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Romans 7:15

And I read it and sigh with understanding. Me too Paul. 

Who is this person looking back at me in the mirror? 

One part a homebody and settled in the city I grew up in, where I know the shortcuts and the best restaurants and the street my best friend grew up on. Another part that longs to see every inch of this vast world. Every small town with slow rhythms and room to breathe and fiction novel sounding names. To see every densely populated city with creative energy and street musicians and marks of progression.  

One part of me confident with good posture and shoulders back. A woman who has lived through some difficult stuff. Another part insecure, picking at my nails and staying silent when I want to speak up, like that thirteen-year-old version of myself walking into that school cafeteria again. Yikes.  

One part fearless and motivated by risk and leaps of faith. Another part afraid of most everything that could fail or threatens to hurt.  

An introvert who loves to speak publicly. 

A lover of music who also craves silence. 

A lover of people with an oversized need for personal space.  

One part of me that is overly health conscious. Another part that routinely gives into lattes and an insatiable craving for chocolate. Does the fact that it's dark chocolate count for anything? 

We are complex beings. Multi-layered and faceted. And brilliant when held in the right light. I don't know why we would expect anything less. We are made in the image of a complex God. 

A God that we cannot understand, but yet knows us fully.  

A God who speaks galaxies into existence and creates daffodils and the softness of a newborn's skin. Who created the wind that brushes against my skin and a smile that can be seen in a person's eyes and drew a line in the sand for the ocean not to cross. 

We are fully known. All parts laid bare. And deep down, it's what we all crave and yet fear that once we are, we will not be fully loved. Like maybe some parts of us are acceptable and other parts, not so much. Like those parts we've deemed as unacceptable might also make us unlovable.  

I watched an exchange recently between my husband and a man who has spent most of his life in prison. His present reality is one of homelessness and the struggling road to recovery from drug addiction. They stood on the sidewalk in the cold night air as cars drove by, their headlights shedding moments of light into the darkness.  His head hung low in shame from a recent relapse after weeks of sobriety and the brief taste of a better life. I heard my husband tell him to look up. To look him in the eye. He told him that he was not ashamed of him. And then he said something that was worth its weight in gold. The kind of thing you write about. The sort of thing that puts a lump in your own throat. Wrecking and transformative if allowed to sink in and settle into the heart.

 

 

"Even if you walk down the street and choose to stick a needle in your arm again, God will not love you any less." 

Hence the lump in the throat. Even if. At my best and at my worst. Any good that I am capable of aside. Any bad that I am capable of uncovered and even still, loved. Deeply and wholly and unwavering. 

"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." 1 Corinth 13:12 

I know it's counter-cultural to everything you've ever heard, been taught, or believed to be true in this works based society we inhabit. But what I'm learning is that I don't have to strive to be loved. And when I posture my heart in the light of that perfect love, it naturally bends my heart towards what is right.

The Beauty of a New Normal 

 

 

Scars on the chest. A permanent reminder of near death, an unexpected surgery and a new regimen of medications. A future calendar marked with frequent doctor visits. 

A house that echoes with silence and too much space. Emptied of the voices that used to fill it. Emptied of the vows and promises of forever that were made. Still filled with memories that are too painful to revisit. 

Waking up after a choice you now regret. Wishing you could go back to sleep and it would have been a bad dream. But it's a reality now. A reality you can't fix or make better. 

New normals.  

Sometimes wanted. Like when your children grow up and leave home. A parent wants their child to mature and grow into adulthood and find their place in the world. That is healthy. Healthy with a side of bitter too. Part of your heartaches and wants to slow the hand of time, to hear their feet hit the floor and see them every morning with their hair disheveled. But time marches on and what do you do now with all your time? 

Sometimes, new normals are so unwanted.  

I found myself in a new and unwanted reality some years ago. It was a season of tragedy and enormous grief. The kind where you have to will your heart to live. During this season, a friend said to me "you will adjust to a new normal." I clung desperately to that truth. You mean to tell me, this too will someday become normal? How could that be? 

I didn't want to adjust to it. I didn't want my new reality. It was not the life I had envisioned for myself. It was not the story I wanted to tell and retell and eventually learn how to live out of. Not. at. all. 

"Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." John 12:24 

I could have held onto the life I once knew. I could have spent my life looking in the rearview mirror. Looking back and pining for the beautiful normalcy of the past. When life was relatively calm and routine, and this complete upheaval wasn't part of the storyline. I could have done that.  

And it still would have died in the grasp of my white-knuckled fists. That part of my life was over and gone. Learning to embrace my new normal is the only place where life would actually be found. 

So I let it fall. Apart and to the ground. And the Fall of my life came just as the season comes, and life seemed to be ebbing away, taking every color and beautiful thing with it. The forecast now a blanket of gray. Winter settled in and made a home, and I let it have its way. The life I knew before seemed to be buried and frozen beneath the ground, with no visible promise of new life to come. 

My new normal. A heavy normal. 

"But if it dies, it produces many seeds."  

My willingness to let it die is what made room for the new life to come eventually. I can still hear his voice today in my mind. "Sarah, you will adjust to a new normal." And I wish someone had told me "and it will be a beautiful one." 

Because that's really what we fear most when life is disrupted. When we're face to face with a situation, we don't know how to navigate. What we fear most is our inability to handle it. And we also fear that the new normal will always be a place of pain and void of a hope-filled future. 

Not so. The seeds produced can be beautiful, if we allow the brokenness to enter and be fully felt and fully broken. 

Maybe you're in a season of adjusting to a new normal. Hear my voice as someone who has walked through it. Brokenness leads to wholeness. A crushed and buried seed produces abundance. New normals can be beautiful normals if we are willing to make space for them.

When There's No Room in the Inn 

#homeforchristmas

 

I heard my husband pacing back and forth in the hallway while mumbling faintly under his breath. Something about shampoo and trying to get a shower. The dilemma? A multitude of sharpie labeled boxes containing all of our daily necessities. And it was anyone's guess which box labeled "bathroom" the shampoo might have been in.  All of our energy sources were depleted by this point. Too fatigued to peel one more strip of tape off a box for a search party.  

It was laugh or cry when a small giggle escaped from where I watched the scene unfold from the bedroom. There is a combination of mere exhaustion, aggravation, and stress that comes with the upheaval of your life that moving brings. Even if it's just across town.  

The day before, I packed our entire home from sun up to sun down. I have become familiar with the echo of a place as the contents that once filled it get placed into boxes. As the once adorned walls stand bare. The shelves cleared off. The closets cleaned out. Dust balls exposed. The house emptied of life and rhythms and stories. 

It was our fourth move in a year. I had become accustomed to the resettling into new spaces. Never allowing myself to get too comfortable anywhere. Some of my stuff always in boxes and kept in storage. Knowing as I drank my coffee on the couch of each living room that I would not be customizing it as my own. You don't go through the effort of painting and hanging pictures unless you are planning to stay, and eleven years had passed since I had lived anywhere I knew wasn't temporary. Eleven years. The thought of it is sobering and melancholy, leaving me with an ache to settle in and stay a while. A long while. 

Maybe that's why this one particular part of Jesus' birth and Mary's story is etched in my heart this season. The part where it says this: 

"There was no room in the Inn." 

I cannot imagine this moment for Mary. The discomfort and exhaustion of a ninety-mile journey to Bethlehem in the last uncomfortable months of pregnancy. I have not forgotten the low back pain. Or feeling like my pelvic bone was going to break in half. I haven't forgotten the anxiety of knowing I was responsible for this amazing life I was being handed and wanting to do it exceptionally well. 

And Mary's was not a situation of ordinary circumstances, as if ordinary isn't hard enough. Mary knew well the gravity of Who she was giving birth to. Well…I think she knew as much as anyone is capable of recognizing and comprehending something so complex. Now her moment of labor had arrived, and there was no room in the Inn?  

Maybe it's part of my story. Perhaps it's part of yours too. 

Maybe for you, it looks different than no vacancy and having to possibly give birth on the side of the road. 

Maybe it looks more like my situation. One of moving to a new zip code, change of address forms, new neighbors….again. Living in temporary spaces and longing to feel settled. 

There's no room in the Inn. 

Maybe it looks like feeling like you don't belong no matter where you are. Or feeling alone even in a room full of people. 

There's no room in the Inn. 

Maybe it looks like things not turning out the way you had hoped. Maybe there was a divorce. A death. A fractured relationship. An estranged child. A broken heart. Some unforeseen event in your life that you never wanted. 

There's no room in the Inn.  

What now? 

Take heart. Mary's story is your story. It's mine too. 

Boulder, CO 

Jesus could have been born anywhere. It could have happened any other way, but it didn't. This climactic part of the story of Mary's labor and no safe place to rest and settle ended and yet began in a stable. The most undesirable of places.  

A reminder to us all that God isn't just found in palaces and with people who are labeled as important by society's measure. He isn't only present when events are unfolding seamlessly and the way you hoped. He's present in the chaos and when everything seems like it's completely falling apart. He's in ordinary places and with those left on the side of the road. 

Our rescuer was born in a stable. Our rescuer is present with us in the low places of our lives. That's the message for you and me this Christmas and New Year. 

"...and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)." 

There is room for you in the Inn.  

  

Reference: Luke 2:7; Matthew 1:23

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  • Margie David

    Margie David Hamilton, Oh

    Sarah keep writing. I went to junior high or high school with you, not sure which one. I've read the first page and can't stop. Your writing speaks to my soul and I'd almost swear we were walking through some if the same wasteland. Thank you so much for writing and sharing

    Sarah keep writing. I went to junior high or high school with you, not sure which one.

    I've read the first page and can't stop. Your writing speaks to my soul and I'd almost swear we were walking through some if the same wasteland.

    Thank you so much for writing and sharing

  • Sally Lyons

    Sally Lyons Liberty Township, Ohio

    Sarah, what beautiful writing. I just was reading this and it all just touched me in just such a way! I can’t even explain it but truly enjoyed all of it!! Thank you for sharing and please continue with your beautiful and thoughtful writing! It made my night 😀. Thank you again.

    Sarah, what beautiful writing. I just was reading this and it all just touched me in just such a way! I can’t even explain it but truly enjoyed all of it!! Thank you for sharing and please continue with your beautiful and thoughtful writing! It made my night 😀. Thank you again.

  • becki hernandez

    becki hernandez las vegas

    I never cry. I cried. So beautiful. Keep writing.

    I never cry. I cried. So beautiful. Keep writing.