Standing After the Storm

The sky is blue now and only a breeze makes the leaves flit about on our young live oak. You would never know a hurricane passed through two days ago. You couldn’t imagine how the wind whistled through our windows and how that little live oak bent farther and farther as Matthew pushed it to its very edge.

Yesterday it felt like the sun might not ever shine again. But it did. It is.

In the middle of it all, I realized a hurricane makes for a very striking picture of the journey through anxiety.

The day before Matthew arrived was gorgeous. The city was a buzz in preparation, and it felt surreal. There was hardly a cloud in the sky.

I met a friend for brunch, and we sat outside. Those not from Florida can’t appreciate what a rare opportunity that is before mid-November. It was the first hint of a slight reprieve from the sticky days of summer.

The weather was so captivatingly pleasant, I spent the evening soaking in more of it watching the youngest’s football practice. I didn’t need to be there. I just wanted an excuse to be outside.

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The night before Hurricane Matthew

Parents around me shared hurricane stories and tried to assure themselves they had prepared adequately. Those from south Florida spoke with shock at the lack of shutters and boarding. The ones from the north grew in anxiety over how to fit their families in closets while the storm passed.

We were all, everyone of us, anticipating disaster. Catastrophe. Tragedy.

Everything around us looked peaceful and normal, and yet we carried with us the impending sense of doom.

We did not know if we would be ok.

 

Those 24 hours, as Hurricane Matthew strengthened and edged closer and closer to our homes, is exactly what it is like to live with an anxiety disorder. Except most of the time there is no hurricane coming. There isn’t even a storm in the forecast.

It is just a forever anticipation of disaster.

It is always being on the look out for how to be prepared for a catastrophe. It is constantly looking around for how to protect yourself from what could happen.

It is believing that something so cataclysmic is going to happen that I will not be ok.

 

The storm came. We went to bed anticipating only a few hours of sleep before winds began thrashing outside. We were prepared to tarp broken windows and huddle together in closet away from flying glass.

Wind did blow. Hard. It made our windows sing. But we woke with 8 hours of sleep and no broken glass. We even had electricity. The hurricane had moved just 10 short miles east as it came its closest.

Into the afternoon, wind would gust and rain would pour. The live oak in our backyard would lean farther over with every gust. But it continued to stand. The gusts still blew, but with every hour they weakened.

And then it all stopped.

Leaves and limbs littered the street. A few trees didn’t fare as well as our little live oak and toppled into the street. Fences would need to be repaired across our neighborhood. But that was as bad as it got. We were banged up a little, but we were ok.

 

Matthew released the last of his fury in the Orlando area around 3pm on Friday. By the next morning, the sun was shining, and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The storm passed, and the sun did shine again.

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The morning after Hurricane Matthew. 

Isn’t that just like life? We get banged up, but we continue to stand. We really are ok, even with our bruises. Just like a person’s struggle with anxiety.

Hard things come. They do. But rarely is it as bad as our anticipation. Anxiety likes to puff-up catastrophe. It lies about resilience. But we are stronger than we think. We are far more resilient than we fear.

Storms come, but they always pass. And afterward, there is a beauty you can’t appreciate without having sat through the pounding wind and rain. I have more depth, more compassion, more kindness because of storms I have stood through. The world is richer and more inviting than it has ever been.

We are resilient. I am resilient. I might lean a little like our live oak, but I am standing. I have more and more experience that as many storms as come, I will be ok.

This is My City

This is my city. The city where a mouse makes dreams come true and the rides of Harry Potter thrill relentlessly. Dolphins dance for crowds and a whole world is created of Legos. It is also the city where hate took 49 lives. One man took judgment into his hands and broke the happiest place on earth.

This is my city, and it is the City Beautiful.

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Several times a week I drive by a club named Pulse. The streets where I often work at Starbucks are lined with rainbow banners. I see two men eating breakfast outside, their dog sleeping at their feet. Two women play at the park with their child. Our pharmacist, who might as well be family, tells us his partner is doing well in the banking field. The LGBT community in Orlando is strong. There is freedom, acceptance, strength and support.

This community has very specific faces to me. It is my pharmacist, my former hairdresser, the server at the Thai tea shop. It is my barista, my favorite checker at Target and one of my daughter’s friends from school.

Those faces are filled with fear and grief today. Hatred was taken to a whole new level.

On Sunday, just hours after hearing the news, I am in the parking lot of Target. The big red bus is parked in its usual spot. Only today it doesn’t have to offer the usual movie tickets to get the donations it needs. The temperature rises to near 100, and literally hundreds fill the parking lot waiting to give blood. They will be there for hours, but none will leave. The City Beautiful will care for its own.

Twenty-four hours later, I make my usual drive to buy meat and veggies. There is no avoiding the helicopters buzzing overhead. Pulse is only a few blocks away. My city has been invaded. Cameras and reporters are everywhere. They have set up camp at the end of the blocked-off road. Geraldo is reporting from the hospital where the surgeons fixed my back and my friend fights cancer. The place feels personal to me, and it’s being invaded.

I drive home from my market, and I pass the Medical Examiner’s Office. At the time, 24 families still hadn’t heard the news they both needed and didn’t want. Crowds are gathered by the door, and it just feels too much. The weight of grief is so very heavy. These families are not abstract people mentioned on the news. I see them standing in the hot sun just 20 feet from me. Wanting to wake up from a nightmare.

If I am honest, I have to confess I have thought often about the likelihood of hearing the news we heard Sunday morning. Sixty million people visit my city every year. Fear seems the most crippling monster to a city committed to creating a fairytale reality.

But I never thought it would look like this. I never thought such explosive evil would be unleashed at a bar. I can not fathom such hate.

This is my city. A terrorist attacked the very streets where I do life. He tried to stir hate, but my city won’t stand for it. We will not let his incomprehensible actions define us.

We will love.

We will give blood until the big red bus closes its doors. We will stand with the LGBT community and tell them they are loved. We will cry with our neighbors over the loss of innocence our city has suffered. We will carry the financial burdens of families who can not pay to put their lost ones in the ground. We will cook and clean and light candles and sing and pray.

The City Beautiful will shine even brighter, but with a rawness one can not know without walking through the unthinkable. Our service and kindness and love will unite our city beautiful. We have faced evil together, but we will be the victors.

This is my city.

 

 

The Explosion

I chase the sun now, as I head back to my corner of the world. Behind me the pictures of a world blown wide and before me the loves my heart longs to see.

Five days I was in a foreign land. And yet, I heard lifetimes. Unlike trips of the past, I saw little of the place I went. Instead of meeting the culture outside, I sat with the ones who had come to this place with me.

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I assumed my taking in of a new people would be as it had before. My eyes would widen as I soaked in all the new. My senses would fill to the brim. Every smell, every taste shifting my normal. My heart would grow with wonder and feeling, longing and ache. I would be haunted by the faces of ones who live this new place every day.

This corner was different. My heart feels as though it could explode with fullness over the lives, the dreams, the challenges I saw. I sat with one after another from places covering the globe, and I listened.

Saints from around the world came to this place to talk about the expansion of the Kingdom. Some from homes where governments fear followers of a Savior. Others from places where the work of everyday living almost drains one dry. We met under a blanket of security, caring well for those who risked much to be with us.

I was the most privileged of those who came. I did not talk much of ideas or strategy. Others were there for that. I came only to hear the stories of these saints.

One by one, they share how they have seen God.

One speaks of the war in his country and how God is using it to bring many to faith. Another shares the struggle of burying the young bodies of those killed for believing and rejoicing in seeing a greater passion rise from those who survived. A team in a hidden place tell of the ache, as they long for those around them to know a hope that doesn’t condemn.

My ears hear so much my voice doesn’t sound my own. My thoughts reflect the accented English that has played all week.

The world has faces to me now, and I feel my heart exploding with their realities. I will honor their trust. I will tell others what I have heard so that their faith, their joy, might remembered over and over.

As I race through an airport to catch my way home, the experience of before does capture me. I weave my way through so many languages and peoples I can not take it all in. Few of those around me are believers in Jesus, I am sure. But the glimpse I have is of heaven. Every tribe. Every nation. My world has blown wide.

Can a heart hold such a picture? Mine is exploding.

 

 

Re-entering Wonder

I am not who I was before.

I have put words to that loss, but I have not fully confronted new normals. Next week I will face a longing of the past.

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My heart once leapt at the opportunity to travel. I loved seeing new places, adventuring through new cultures and people. It spoke deeply to the Spirit in me. Wherever I travel, I am captivated by watching people and wondering what life brings to them. What has their story spoken to them? What weighs their heart? What brings joy?

On Saturday, I leave for a week in a new country. A country bordering war and terror. I will be surrounded by saints from 30 countries, and I will hear their stories. I will hear them talk of how they have seen God.

Before, this trip would have filled me up. I would have soaked it all in and reveled at the blessing of being present.

Now, I am weary. The adventure feels exhausting. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the energy it will take to hear those stories with the presentness they deserve.

I fear days of darkness, in a corner where I don’t have a safe place. Will the pit consume me half way around the world? Will I have the resilience to press on by myself?

It is a different day. I am different. I miss the spirit who would have thrilled in this travel.

There is a hidden place within that hopes to be caught by a new picture of the world. It longs to be stirred again. What if exhaustion gave way to the rest of feeling God’s heart?

I will get on a plane with hope and fear. Fear suffocates, and it is taking a lot to allow hope space. But in the end, I want hope to win. I want my heart to be moved.

Pray for me, friends. This trip feels much bigger than the work I get to do. Pray it would be another glimmer. Pray the Spirit in me would awaken again.

I’m missing me. . .

You know when you’re in a dark room and you feel disoriented and can’t distinguish one thing from another? Even in a room you know well? In your bedroom, you know exactly where each piece of furniture is placed. You know where clothes are left of the floor and the spot where a cord reaches across in peril.

But when the lights are off, all you see is the darkness. There is a bed to walk around, but how far does it go? Clothes usually land somewhere around here. . . are they right in front of me or to the left? My beautiful smoky purple walls look exactly like my yellow bookshelf and my white mirror. The wall that was obvious in the light can only be guessed at by a hand reached out in exploration.

It takes so much longer to walk in a dark room. It takes so much energy to navigate around danger.

Depression is the darkness that darkens every room. I miss the light.

I miss joy.

I miss wonder and peace. And energy and vision.

Perhaps, most of all, I miss hope. Hope is incredibly veiled without light.

I miss how the funky nail polish on my toenails made me smile. I miss waking up in the morning with excitement for my day. Or even energy to want to get out of bed. I miss flipping through cookbooks, imaging flavors coming together and dreaming about when I could create in my kitchen.

I miss clarity of thought. And passion.

I miss me. A lot.

I’m a week into my intensive counseling. It’s been. . . intense. There is someone fighting to breathe hope into my heart. All I can offer are tears and exhaustion to join him. Just showing up is all I have right now. But I’m doing it.

The Paradox of Death

A friend of mine passed into glory yesterday.

Right now she is sitting with Jesus. She is touching Him and being held tightly in His arms. The Grace she clung to has now been made complete.

I weep over the joy she now knows. My tears fall over my own craving for the satisfaction of my very deepest longings finally being filled so completely. My friend knew joy before yesterday–extravagant joy fed by an unadulterated love for those around her. But even that beauty was a shadow. She had tasted, but now she feasts.

For a believer in Jesus, isn’t death the fulfillment of life? It’s the birthing process into the world for which we were really created. All the practice, all the yearning is met there. The celebration of angels knows no end.

But doesn’t it stink for those who aren’t going yet?

Kara Tippetts was my friend, despite the fact we had never met. She spoke to my soul and challenged my trust in God’s presence more than anyone ever has. I poured over every word, every challenge she wrote on her blog Mundane Faithfulness. She was only 38-years-old, with four precious kiddos. Her faithful husband pastors the church they moved to Colorado Springs to plant just three years ago. She leaves behind an ever-growing community who want more of her. They want more of God manifested in her profound faith.

I learned a lot from Kara, and I want to be just like her when I grow up. She loved deeply. She overflowed with thankfulness. She challenged me to consider kindess–lavish, godly, inviting kindness. She demonstrated how to die well. She literally showed the thousands who read her blog how to die. My hunger grows for the glories on the other side . But perhaps more than anything, she spoke into me the hope of suffering.

“Suffering isn’t a mistake,” she said, “And it isn’t the absence of God’s goodness, because He is present in pain.” I did not want to hear that when I first met Kara. Suffering did feel like the absence of God’s goodness. I was walking through a darkness I wasn’t sure I would ever see Light in and God felt a million miles away.

God has spoken to that place. He has forced me to be in my pain and look around. Kara suffered the grievous pain of saying good-bye to those she loved deeply. I have suffered different pain. Pain that has made my heart feel like it would literally break in two. I fought it in every way I knew. I ran. I hid. I denied. But as pain pursued, I have been shocked to recognize His warmth. I know that doesn’t sound a very spiritual thing to say, but it was shocking to me. I really believed pain was the absence of God. Kara showed me that is a lie.

“I feel like I’m a little girl at a party whose dad’s asking her to leave early. And I’m throwing a fit. I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to go.”             Kara Tippetts

His presence in our suffering is its redemption. It is grace incarnate. God is infinitely good all the time, and no pain can alter that.

There is a community grieving deeply tonight. We have lost one most dear to us. One who made us celebrate love, challenged us to welcome God in our suffering and showed us how to die. But the great paradox of death is the fullness in heaven. Kara is healed. She is complete. She has been welcomed into that for which she was created.

The Dignity of Hope

We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.  I Chronicles 29:15

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.  Proverbs 13:12

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  Romans 5:5

Hope does not put us to shame.

Shame condemns. Shame grows as one’s weaknesses are exposed. Shame is defined as “a condition of humiliating disgrace.”

Shame strips us of our dignity.

There were parts of India that were hard to see. Realities of poverty and the exposure of shame. Dignity was lost between the streets used as bathrooms and the cows that roamed as gods. It was shocking to my soul.

My soul was shocked by the dignity that evaporates when the last drop of hope is squeezed out. Hope clothes us with dignity. Hope is what gives us worth. So what becomes of one without hope at all? It seems inconceivable (especially to an American mind) that one could be completely. without. hope.

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Photo by Kirby Trapolino

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Photo by Kirby Trapolino

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Photo by Kirby Trapolino

Dig°ni°ty: the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed

Tears stream down my face as I think of the life of the woman cutting shoes for rubber.  Has she never been told the worth she has in the eyes of the very One who created her? I want to tell her.

I want to honor her and the devotion with which she works. I want to give her dignity. And I want to wrap my arms around those precious little bodies of youth and pour over them words of esteem. Of hope.

My friend Kirby, who graciously allowed me to use these photos he took firsthand in Indian and Filipino slums, spends every day of his life working to bring hope to the least of these. I am so jealous. We help him in every way we can and yet I can never send enough to satiate my heart’s yearning to touch these lives.

He provides them with clothes and places to learn. Peace Gospel, the ministry he started, trains widow in how to sew, rescues girls from a life of sex-trade. He takes pictures of those who have never even seen a reflection of themselves before. He brings hope. He clothes with dignity.

It is crazy beautiful.

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Photo by Kirby Trapolino

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Photo by Kirby Trapolino

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Photo by Kirby Trapolino

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Photo by Kirby Trapolino

That is the crazy beautiful I want my life to be about. May God grant me the grace to clothe others in dignity. Dignity brought through hope in a God who loves the very least among us.

A Story From My Grandmother

My mom’s mom died when I was five. My memories of her are vague, and I often wonder what I remember versus what I know from the stories I’ve heard.

She was tall–six feet. She had red hair that has now been passed down two generations. She loved to laugh, to push hard on the gas pedal and made the most amazing chocolate chip cookies.

She was the wife of a farmer and tough as nails.

One of the things I didn’t know about my grandma was that she liked to write stories. My mom and I were recently digging through some old family photographs when we came across a couple of hand-written stories my grandma had put on paper to enter into a contest. I got to see the handwriting of this woman who I hardly knew but who forms such a vital piece of my heritage.

I thought I’d share one of those stories with you. It puts a smile on my face to think of my grandma putting pen to paper in 1956 and now having her words published for the world to read. I hope you enjoy a little glimpse into the life of an Oklahoma housewife.

The Day I Was a Widow for a Few Seconds

Last summer, one Saturday in July, we made plans to meet friends for boating and a picnic a few miles from our home.

We arose to a calm, warm Saturday and proceeded with our plans. We fixed a picnic lunch and serviced our boat.

While my daughter and I got ready for church, my husband decided to go out to our steel granary, which was a few yards from the house, and check the wheat for heat. The wheat had been up in the granary from the harvest a few weeks before. He put a ladder next to the granary and started to climb to the top. He was carrying a long, iron rod, which he always put through a small door down into the wheat.

He had just put one end of the iron rod into the wheat when a gust of wind caught the other end of the rod and blew it against the high-line above, which carried 7200 volts. The voltage went down the rod, into my husband’s hands and on down through his body, coming out his stomach. With his weight being over 200 pounds, he was knocked off the ladder to the ground, 14 feet below. When the voltage hit him, his heart stopped beating, but when he hit the ground, the impact started it again.

When he came to, he tried to stand but couldn’t. So he crawled towards the house until he managed to get on his feet.

Our daughter heard him calling us, and she ran to the door. He was in shock but was able to tell us what happened.

We rushed him to the hospital, which was a long fifteen miles that day. His hands had third-degree burns and for a moment we thought this was all the burns he had. A small hole was in his shirt just above the waistline, about the size of a pea. When we took his shirt off, his undershirt had a hole the size of a cup and a deep third degree burn was staring at us. We removed his trousers immediately, which had pinhead-size holes just above the knees. Everywhere there was a hole, there was a burned place on his legs, the size of a nickel.

The doctor said he was hurt bad, and it would take a few days to know how much skin grafting would have to be done.

My husband has a lot of will-power and decided immediately this would not get him down. By morning, he was out of shock completely, was moving his hands as usual and was very hungry.

He had very good care and by Wednesday the doctor let him come home with several instructions.

It has been almost a year since this accident happened. There is a scar on his stomach and legs, but his hands don’t show a scar of any kind. His was a miracle because he didn’t have to have any skin grafting.

We know someone higher up was looking over us that day and it’s a lot nicer to be a widow for a few seconds than for ever.

Oatmeal Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

You have to go make these cookies. They are yum.my.photo (24)

Oatmeal Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts/pecans (optional)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 375. Beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time and then the vanilla and milk. Stir baking soda into the flour and then add both to butter mixture. Beat just until combined. Add oats, chocolate chips, nuts and pecans. Bake for 12-14 minutes.

I’ll warn you, these are a little life-changing. You can thank me later. 🙂

It’s a Lime!

Guess what?!?!

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The day before my birthday, I went out to water my tree, and there it was. . .even though the “season” doesn’t start until September.

It’s a lime! On MY tree!

My birthday definitely held a certain sweetness this year (and not just because it’s the last one in a certain decade). I felt like the Lord had whispered a special word of encouragement to me: “I see you and even care about the joy that limes will give you.”

Oh the beauty that the Lord gives! I’m seeing it today. Are you?