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.

img_3452-2

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.

img_3453

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.

Advertisements

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.

prayfororlando

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.

9GLUSR55H4

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.

Y8CKB0O8C2

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.

460608_10151924995348852_648561124_o

Photo by Kirby Trapolino

465087_10151861041693852_876434952_o

Photo by Kirby Trapolino

976950_10151928922953852_2147252687_o

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.

1039528_10151989171853852_699053732_o

Photo by Kirby Trapolino

943768_10151884979673852_1700565648_n

Photo by Kirby Trapolino

775228_10151633709573852_923109786_o

Photo by Kirby Trapolino

1262968_10152134969288852_1932044617_o

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.