Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dreaming of Silence

1999.
London.
Some very old cathedral whose name escapes me.
Candles, darkness, stillness.
Community.
Peace.

The first time I remember ever experiencing contemplation. Intentional stillness. Breathing in prayers.

It was a small taste of many more experiences to come. Staff retreats, personal times of solitude, early morning intentional quiet before the sun (and my children) rise.

But it's elusive these days.

Don't get me wrong. I like to be on the move. People look at you like you're five kinds of crazy when you are out and about with three boys. They assume you are run ragged all day long. And I am.

But I happen to like exercise. And games of chase, hide-and-go-seek, endless games of soccer and catch. I like the movement. The noise level, maybe not so much, but I don't mind never sitting still with them.

I do, however, miss quiet and contemplation and slowing down intentionally, particularly in community. There's not a lot of time to get to our church's contemplative service right now. It's at dinner time on a Sunday, when it's Defcon 5 around here and we hit survival mode with all hands on deck until bedtime.  I could go to a women's bible study at a local church if my child's nap would cooperate, but really that's just more input. More words and noise right now. I like to chew on my pastor's sermon all week and read alone...but my brain can't take too much more information at the moment. It's filled up on so much. Sensory books. Parenting books. Sermons. Worship prep. Therapy plans for the middle child.

And as I've begun to think about what "yeses" I can say when we move, I'm wondering if there will be a place, a space, just in the middle of the week, maybe mid-morning. A place where child-care is offered and men and women can gather in quiet, in contemplation. Maybe it's led by someone, maybe it's just an open time to come, be, listen, breathe. Maybe it doesn't exist yet. Maybe it can.

I don't know.

But I'm dreaming of it.

One time a week, where harried people (parents or not) can come and contemplate the glory of our God. Soak in the stillness and calm of His Spirit. Bask in the love of His Son.

I long for it. I cannot be the only one who does.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Untangling RVA

In just a few short months we'll head south again to Richmond. Back to where our family began. We met there, married there, bought our first home there, got our first pet there, had our first child there. You know, became adults. Or at least we looked like adults. When do you really start feeling like an adult, anyway?

Richmond was not first on our list to return to. In fact, in some ways, it was probably last. It was a place we never planned to return. A place that, for me at least, represented pain. Represented exhaustion and chaos and all the ways I didn't want our family to function. When we left it for NC seven years ago, we left it with a big sigh of relief.

It was a chance to start over. Fresh. New.

I still remember those first few months after we moved. The days were calm and joyful, filled with house projects and playing and attempting not to melt in the Durham humidity as we met our awesome neighbors. The evenings were filled with family dinners and twilight walks and long conversations with my husband after our son, then only 2, went to sleep for the night.

It was peace.

And in the midst of that peace, I blamed all of what I had felt IN Richmond ON Richmond.

The overwhelmed. The exhausted. The angry. The alone. The sadness.

It was Richmond's fault.

Even those first few years in NC, if I drove through RVA on the way north, I would tense up. I couldn't stop for a fill-up or a coffee. I drove through it as quickly as possible and kept my eyes facing forward.

It was in NC that I started blogging. Made the attempt to move from unable to even articulate a feeling to myself from occasionally being brave enough to share a feeling with the public. I shared about our miscarriage. Our infertility. Our adoption process. Parenting. Friendships. Marriage.

But never once did I write about Richmond.

It was, until a few months ago, a place I kept closed off. Until we got that call from VCU. And began to ask God if it was maybe, just maybe, a chance for a do-over. An adventure in redemption.

Friends, I had to get down on my knees. I had to surrender my anger. Surrender my fear.

And in so doing, I began to see that it wasn't Richmond's fault at all.

It was me, and me alone.

Those who know me now, know that I share about the hard places. I blog, I write, I try to find funny things to say in the midst of the hard moments. I work at being open.

But back then, I was one big secret. I was fine. All the time.

So much so that I was actually going through a miscarriage in the middle of a church leadership meeting, chose to stay there, not tell anyone it was happening and just occasionally rush off to the bathroom to panic and breathe and come back as if nothing was wrong.

So much so that I went away on a retreat with my colleagues during that same time and only told the woman I roomed with. 3 whole days away togther in a beach house and no one knew a thing was wrong. They just thought I was tired.

So much so that during that drawn-out month in which we lost our daughter, when a good friend called and asked if she could bring us a meal(because clearly she knew something was wrong), I chose to pretend that nothing was wrong at all and didn't tell her what was going on. And refused the meal.

So much so that I began to avoid our friends because I didn't want to answer any questions about why I was sad or distant. I focused on packing. I focused on thinking ahead and ignoring the now.

So much so that my marriage was basically a setup of excellent roommates who were over-committed and exhausted. Ships passing in the night who traded off childcare. Because to interact was to deal with pain that we weren't sharing with anyone else. And who had the time to interact, anyway, with all the ways we were involved in life around us?

Ironically, we were a part of a very intentional community of people at that time. A new church plant, people who had moved into the city to be in each other's lives. We were on church committees, worship teams, small groups. We had friends nearby.

But we had put our community BEFORE our marriage rather than inviting our community INTO our marriage.

There is a big difference, friends.

One way allows me to present the illusion of service and love and the other let's me actually LIVE a life of service and love.

I chose the wrong way.

I am a long way away from untangling all this. I know that almost 10 years later, I am no longer a walking secret. I have talked about the miscarriage. I have adopted two beautiful sons. I have dealt, as best one can, with the infertility. I have a good marriage that is way more than a roommate situation. I keep a feelings chart handy because, on top of trying to figure out what I am feeling at any given moment, I am trying to teach my children how to identify what they feel. I am clearly not equipped for that particular quirk of parenting but I soldier on and we learn together.

But as I look forward, there are things I need to do.

I have never apologized to the friends I shut out. I hope to do that.

I have never driven by our home in Church Hill on my trips through Richmond. I want to do that.

I have only once been back to our church community there and, at the time, all it did was dredge up the pain. I have to visit and let the Lord practice his work of redemption.

Most of all, I hope as I continue to untangle and forgive myself and move forward, that we can start fresh as a family. 10 years later. 2 more pets. 2 more children. 2 more sets of goodbyes under our belts. We have changed and so has RVA.

Ready or not, here we come.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Ice

I woke up this morning to a glittering, ice-encrusted world. The sun is bright and reflecting, the air is brisk. It's Good Friday.


Much of yesterday as the snow and sleet and ice came down I was mired in bitterness. Bitterness over a winter that is hanging on in full ferocity, bitter that my toddler spends most of his time angry at the world, bitter that a particular recurring ailment of mine seems to have returned to add physical discomfort to my emotional frustrations, bitter that my whole life is currently spent cleaning up, bitter that soon our life will be filled with goodbyes again.

Bitter.

And on this day, one of the most sacred in the Christian calendar, the day that marks when the cross changed from the instrument of common criminal death to the symbol of God's greatest act of love and humility, His creation is encased in ice. Frozen.

My tulips that had such promise will have to fight for life.

The lilac buds that were set to bloom in just a few weeks may now have to wait longer to burst forth in their lavendar glory.

I can't help but see the similarities between this storm and my heart. For what else is bitterness but a layer of ice built around the heart preventing one from reveling in gratefulness? Preventing me from seeing the gifts that overwhelm my life?

What else, indeed.

This morning as I stole 5 quiet, lovely minutes to creep outside in my pajamas with my camera before the sun began to melt the ice, I was reminded of why the bitterness cannot define me. Of how Good Friday isn't the end of the story.

Because even as I gazed dolefully at my poor, pathetic tulips, I saw the stark beauty that surrounded me. The beauty in the ice that just moments ago had angered me because I wanted the beauty of spring. The way it made the colors of green and brown and red pop out in the landscape. Of how the world just seemed clearer, somehow.

I thought back to the confusion of Jesus' followers on this day so many years ago. To see their hopes, their dreams, the very life they had longed for slipping from their grasp. Their fear, their own bitterness at what they thought was the end of life as they knew it. Of how they didn't know the end of the story like we do.

Friends, it is clear to me that my biggest struggle in this phase of my life is the tendency towards discontent. Towards bitterness. In seeing in my life what is lacking, rather than what is Good.

And since I often tend to rush through Holy Week to get to the joy of Easter rather than engage the emotions that came before the morning that changed the world forever, I was suddenly thankful for the ice storm. Thankful for the way it revealed to me, once again, the ways my heart stays frozen even in the midst of so much light, so much warmth, so many gifts I've been given in my life.

The ways that I let what I think SHOULD BE crowd out the beauty that IS.

Today, on this Good Friday, I am asking God once again to help me let go of all that seeks to steal my joy so that in two days from now, when I stand with my community on Easter morning, I will truly be able to see anew the astounding glory of the resurrection, of the world made new, of death conquered and promises fulfilled. Of life in all it's messy goodness.