Hard to Say Goodbye

13667727_10206694363826567_1814928283392333504_oThe blue lights of the sanctuary covered the back wall and reflected off the horns that were scattered across the stage. Trumpets, coronets and flugelhorns all caught the light and reflected it out to the seats below creating an atmosphere that was at once soothing and sad, much like the jazz that my friend had played on them.

I was walking in to say my goodbyes along with several hundred other people, all of whom were touched in some way by this man.

His death was unexpected and heartbreaking. He was a grandfather, husband, brother and father – all of the things one would expect of a man of a certain age – and yet he was so much more.

As a musician, he challenged everyone he played with to be better; to be more than they were before the set started. As a man of faith, he carried with him a sense of peace and joy that exuded through every part of his being and showered down on those he came into contact with. I don’t doubt that he had days of uncertainty and struggle, but during the brief time I was blessed to know him, I never saw a glimpse of that. As the song from then musical Wicked says, I have been changed by knowing him.

because I knew you

It’s hard to say goodbye, isn’t it? Even at times when the goodbye isn’t necessarily permanent, the very word seems to stick in our heart like a barb. It isn’t supposed to be like this, our heart cries! My time with this person was supposed to be longer! I never got the chance to say thank you or I’m sorry or whatever it is we so desperately want to say when the option no longer exists.

As I listened to the sermon during this somber event, the pastor of the church indicated that God didn’t intend for us to say goodbye; that our need to do so only exists because of the fall of man in the garden. While this may not be a popular opinion, I beg to differ.

I don’t, as I’ve said in the past, believe that God makes mistakes. Therefore, it only logically follows that God absolutely created us to feel loss and ache at the departure of people and things we love. To me, to believe otherwise means that God neither foresaw Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit nor planned for the repercussions thereafter. For me, my God is bigger than that. He knew before He created a single microorganism that we would fail. Actually, to me, He created us to do so because the bigger plan was dependent upon our human curiosity to overtake our desire to obey.

Sounds contrary to probably everything you have ever been taught, but follow me on this for a moment.

Without failure, we would never learn that we need God. We would mindlessly follow, devoid of passion or conviction. The God I believe in wants so much more for us than that.

 

I believe that God created the ability for us to sin so we would learn to turn to Him; that he created the ability to stumble so we would feel the security of being carried; the ability to mourn losses great and small so that we could know the full breadth of love.

Love is bigger than happiness and joy. It aches with yearning, cries out with pain, and sobs uncontrollably for endings. The ability to feel these things is what makes love such a unique and complex emotion and is the one thing that makes us truly a part of God.

At times like this – the death of a friend or loved one – it certainly doesn’t seem like much of a gift, but it truly is.

Without the depths of despair that loss brings we would never fully realize the heights of bliss that are also part of our emotional spectrum.

Perhaps more importantly, without the stillness that comes with loss we would never come to experience the excitement of renewal. If nothing ever left our lives, there would be no need for us to reach out for something new – a new hobby,  a new friend, a new life experience. The life that God envisioned for us would not exist.

Maybe it seems odd to say, but I would absolutely choose the life of emotional ups and downs over a life of status quo. It seems to me that God created me to be able to feel these things so I could know Him more fully; so I could more fully grasp the extent of His love for me and the purpose He has for my life.

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I know what you’re thinking. What kind of sadistic god would want me to suffer?

The thing is, it’s not that He wants us to suffer per se, but  that He wants us to realize that through these experiences we can grow to be so much more that who we were before them. Oh sure, we can choose to wallow in self-pity for the rest of out lives, or we can change.

As I thought about how this particular death was calling me to change, I took a moment to look around the sanctuary all of the various people who had been affected by this person – and it hit me.

I desire to make a difference the way my friend did. No, I’m not going to take up brass instruments and try to teach or try to replicate his life. That would just be silly and I would be an utter failure. But what I am going to do is make a conscious effort to be that person that makes others feel welcome and comfortable; to be that person that creates a sense of peace and laughter.

On the day of my first gig with the band I met this wonderful man in, I was nervous and felt uncertain of my ability to carry the role I had been given. This man not only told me at every opportunity that I was doing a great job, but caught my eye to do silly things like use his horn as a dancing snake making me laugh and relax. This is the piece of my friend I want to carry forward.

Thanks to my friend, I am going to work harder to reflect the characteristics of God to others so they can feel His presence in their lives, even when they don’t realize that’s what they feel.

I only hope that when I meet him in heaven, he will be able to see the change he made in me and the way I was able to carry the torch for him.

 

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The Silent Treatment

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sidcreationblog.blogspot.com

 

Have you ever been given the silent treatment? It’s infuriating, isn’t it? Somehow the fact that this one person that you desperately want to communicate with is choosing not to say a word becomes the most powerful thing on the planet. I, for one, will yell, beg, do just about anything to get the silence to stop.

 

As I look around at our flags which have been flying at half-staff now for weeks on end,I can’t help but wonder if this silent treatment wouldn’t be the most effective thing we could do to staunch the bloodletting.

What if we gave the voice of the media outlets to those who are doing good things for our nation rather than offensive or destructive things? What would happen to our sense of community if we painted our news feeds with pictures of neighbors helping neighbors instead of turning against one another; of religious organizations banding together for the benefit of those in need instead of focusing on the pieces that cause divisiveness; of children playing together without concern of race, creed or color?

As a person of faith, I am called to be “give the silent treatment” rather than speak words that are offensive or divisive. While this is incredibly hard to do in this era of instant messaging, Facebook and Twitter, we need to get back to the old adage of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” instead of our current mindset.

Not every idea that comes to our mind is worthy to be verbalized. Rather than being 99c3c8be28568604fa2262088459404amindless puppets responding to images and videos taken out of context to incite, we could – and should – stop for a moment and think. We need to remember that words hurt. I, for one, continue to hear the words spoken to me and about me that were cruel and hurtful and I have to consciously stop and remind myself that those words do not define me.

What does define me (more so some days than others) is my faith and the way I represent my faith on a daily basis. Given the immediacy and permanence of our digital culture today, I can’t think of a stronger way to reflect my faith than to monitor the words that both come out of my mouth and that are placed on this global network for all to see.

The Bible has over 50 verses that relate to the power of words and our need to monitor our tongue. After all, it was the serpent’s words which convinced Eve to take that fateful bite of fruit and Eve’s words to Adam which convinced him to join in the fun.

1cc2c26105a375b0b5855765c24cd53bThe Bible reminds its readers over and over that the words of our enemies may taste sweet in our mouths but will poison and destroy us. If you think this isn’t true, just think back to Hitler and the rise of the 3rd Reich.

In a time when the German people were struggling, Hitler began speaking words of hatred about those who were successful feeding into fears and bigotries that the people were struggling against. His words tasted sweet. They provided a direction for anger, resentment and hatred; they added unnecessary fuel to the fire of dissension that had been created at the end of World War I and as a result, the steamroller that was Hitler’s 3rd Reich became unstoppable.

This same thing is well on the way to occurring here in our country. Fuel is being added by political organizations, civil organizations and the average John and Jane on the street who feel they have been ignored for too long. Their individual pain and suffering is being fed by the vile onslaught that is social and mainstream media and soon we, too, will have an unstoppable machine which I fear will not only destroy our nation, but the world as we know it.

Pretty deep, I know.

164d9af7b699de5b529fd3173c9f817bBut here’s the thing.

We as members of a faith community – ANY faith community – have the ability to stop it.

By giving the silent treatment to the campaigns of violence and hatred that surround us, we can starve the fire of its fuel. By holding our own tongues – keeping ourselves from being reactionary and repeating information we have not researched nor fully understand, we can start throwing tiny buckets of water on the fires to keep them from merging together to become greater than they already are.

In doing this, we are giving hatred and prejudice the silent treatment.

Want to take it one step further?

If we, as members of faith, return to filling our hearts and minds with ALL of God’s word, not just those individual verses or portions of verses we believe give credence to our feelings of superiority, we can extinguish the fires that have been overtaking our nation.

I know. It sounds trite and silly, but the reality is that the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us is fed by the words we hear and repeat.

Thd55816ea42f4dff6a30c46310e39ef31ink about all of those self-help guru’s out there. What is typically the number one thing they will tell the average person who is seeking to improve their own life? Change the monologue that plays out in your head on a daily basis.

So here is my challenge to you (and me) for the next week.

Replace the words of anger and frustration with words of love and affirmation. Start with the internal monologue that we all struggle with. Instead of calling yourself an idiot for forgetting to turn off the coffee pot before you left for work (a phrase I use on myself more often than I care to admit), encourage yourself for the innumerable things you remember on a daily basis. Instead of getting immersed in the office politics about who did what to whom, divert the discussion to something positive – the beautiful weather, the funny video you saw of that adorable puppy or the undeniable joy of a baby’s laughter. Instead of getting into political and social arguments with people on Facebook and Twitter, hide the negative posts from your feed or disconnect altogether for a time.

I’m not even going to pretend that this will be easy. It wo64ab240fe4e54cc423487597eddb8963n’t. Saying only positive things tends to make people uncomfortable and abruptly end what appear to be stimulating conversations, but in the end, this is what we as individuals and as a society need.

If we can make giving those negative thoughts and feelings the silent treatment  our priority, the positive will start to take over and suddenly what seemed impossible is now possible.

 

 

Chasing A Mirage

b207783bd5de238eab1919afb1e12321Have you ever felt like the road you were on suddenly fell off the map? Like Google Maps suddenly updated and now the route you thought was going to lead you where you needed and wanted to go no longer exists?

I have to admit I have felt that way a lot over the last several years.

At nearly 50, I have often struggled to find my place – my place in the workplace, my place in my personal life, my place with my gifts and talents.

Don’t get me wrong – I have had some very exciting and fulfilling times in my life, but at the moment I feel a little like I’m wandering in the desert.

I don’t know about you, but I just thought  at some point it would get easier. After all, I have already made it through a significant number of challenges.

Putting aside my childhood and the struggles there, I have been through 2 divorces, the suicide of a stepson, years of being sick and having surgery after surgery, and loss – or perhaps a complete lack – of financial stability.

About 4 years ago, I had finally landed a decent paying job that allowed me to use my creativity and skills, had found some success in local theater groups, and felt ready to return home to Colorado to spend quality time with family and reestablish my community there.

god-laughs-at-your-plansI’m pretty sure I have heard God laughing at my plan many, many times over the last few years.

First, the job I moved with fell apart…as have 2 successive positions….

…and several of the family members i had  moved back to reconnect with – 0r, in some cases, begin a relationship with –  moved out-of-state…

…and some promising acting work disappeared like ashes in the wind.

Now, here I am almost 50 years old with not a lot to hold up to the world around me to say this is what I have accomplished with my life – isn’t it great?

Don’t get me wrong. I know that it isn’t the amount of stuff one has, the size of the bank account or the plaques on the wall that determine a successful life. I have had many successes thus far. I have traveled, acted, sung, and met some amazing people who have made an indelible mark on my life. I have had good jobs, grown in my faith, and become a more secure individual…

..and yet, here I sit, feeling as though I am standing in the middle of a desert chasing mirages of what my life is supposed to be only to find I am chasing after shifting sands, never to reach the destination I thought was in front of me.

What makes this even more challenging is that as a Christian, both the Christian and non-Christian communities often look at my life and others like it and express thoughts that I am not “doing” Christianity right. If I were a more faithful Christian woman, would I not have a good man beside  me? Would I not feel more settled and satisfied? Would I not be harvesting the “fruit” of my well-lived Christian life?

To those people, I have to kindly say absolutely not.0_0_0_0_322_654_csupload_57205222

The Bible is filled with passages about the struggles we as humans will face. There is not any “ifs” about it. Life will be hard regardless of your faith.

Ok – well what about those passages that tell me I should be rejoicing in my struggles? That I should be perfectly content in its imperfection. Aren’t we as Christians called to trust in the Lord always and not be anxious about anything?

Yes. We are. But the truth of the matter is that I – like all of you – am human and while these are great goals to reach for, they are not always attainable on a consistent basis.

I, for one, am anxious!

I am anxious about where my next paycheck is going to come from, whether or not I will have the money I need to make rent, and what the next few months of my life are going to look like. I am anxious about the thought of living the rest of my life alone and knowing that the struggle is likely only going to continue or get worse, not better. And I am anxious about the thought that maybe I missed a turn I was supposed to take; a route that was marked for me that I missed or was too fearful or arrogant to take and now it is lost to me.

And I do not count all of this joy. While there are joyful aspects of where my life is now, I am tired of the struggle.

I ache to be using the gifts and talents I have to be making my way through this life; getting paid to do what I love and have a talent for rather than having to make do with a “day job” and not truly live.

I yearn to be writing for a living, able to use my words to tell stories people long to read and receive intellectual and emotional nourishment from and receiving some monetary accommodation for this.

I long to be able to act and sing and not actually have to sacrifice acting and singing opportunities because the 9 to 5 grind that I endure in order to pay the bills and make ends meet makes it nearly impossible to allow these things to be a part of life.

I crave a connection to another human being that is not superficial but rather emotionally, spiritually and physically fulfilling; to have another person in my life that can walk with me in the ebbs and flows of life and come out the other side still willing to walk some more.

But here’s the thing.

Even with all the feelings of sadness and the chasm of uncertainty I currently feel, I know that I am blessed.

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I am blessed because I know that my God is big enough to hear my pain and to help me carry it. He is not angry with me because I am not cheerful about my struggles nor is he going to smite me because I fail to uphold this image of what a “true Christian” is.

Life is hard. There are struggles – some big and some small – that we all must face during our time here on this earth. I know that the struggles I am having today are not nearly as challenging as some you may be facing. They are certainly not the hardest struggles I’ve had in my life, but they are significant enough for me to want it to end – like, now would be great.

Much as I wish God would shoot me a text telling me what it is I am supposed to be doing with my life at this stage of the game, that isn’t going to happen. I, like all of you, have to wait. I have to continue to work at finding a new job so I know I can pay my rent and wait for a time when those horrendous “thanks, but no thanks” emails are replaced by a “we want YOU” email.

cc78da55504da0d9a7026fe699f13b7eI have to wait to hear the answers to my prayers that are spoken with my heart and my mouth on a daily (or hourly) basis and  I have to remember to keep my spirit ready for the answers God sends because they are not often the answers I hope they would be.

And I have to keep chasing that dream that is in front of me which may or may not end up being a mirage because to stop following it is to give up – and I refuse to give up.

After all, God doesn’t give up on me. What right do I have to give up on myself?

So here I am, chasing mirages. If you are here in the desert with me, send up a white flag
and maybe we can walk a little bit of this together.

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Type of Independence

635954034872811688592040105_heart-rate-monitorI was 10 years old the first time someone saved my life.

My parents had recently divorced, my brother was no longer living with my mom and I and when he visited, the encounters were filled with anger and drunkenness from my mother’s side and anger and fear from my brother and my side (at least, I assume he was at least a little bit scared, but maybe I have projected that onto him all these years since).

My mom and I had moved to a new house where I was the new kid in school. I was awkward and shy, didn’t know anyone and had no idea how to fit in.

I needed an escape.

The small round tablets tasted sweet on my tongue as I swallowed handful after handful, waiting for the ache in my heart to disappear.

Like many young people who attempt suicide, death wasn’t really a concept I fully grasped and therefore not really what I wanted. I just wanted the soul-sucking ache in my heart to stop for just a little while.

I awoke under huge, glaring lights with what appeared to be dozens of people surrounding me, but it was likely only 3 or 4. I had overdosed and had fallen into a coma. I was in the hospital having undergone stomach pumping and a spinal tap. I was pelted with questions from every direction.

Why did I take the pills?

Had my brother made me take them?

What were they?

Where did I get them?

I did my best to answer all of the questions but trying to put my brokenness into words at the ripe old age of 10 was more than I knew how to do. I yearned for someone to see past the action itself and try to understand the aching of my heart; to see me and try to help.

Two people did.

Or maybe it was just one but he dragged his partner along.

I wish I remembered their names, but it, along with many other tidbits of my life has fallen away. But I do know that they were the drivers of the ambulance that carried me from one hospital to another (and suffered a kick to the groin in thanks for giving me a spinal tap). lifebuzz-8f27ab3a564f399b93978d77f25fef10-limit_2000

They came to visit me several times while I recovered in the hospital and somehow with their presence in my room, I felt they understood and my heart broke when they came to say their last goodbye.

I was 15 when I was saved once again.

I had been at rehearsal for a play – my first.

We had worked endlessly to perfect a dance number for the opening of Carnival and I was finally dropped off at home around midnight.

I recall clearly that the person who dropped me off told me she didn’t want to leave me at my house; that something was wrong. It was no secret that things at my house were often sketchy, but this was different. The entire look of the house was dark, foreboding.

I got out of the car telling my friend she could leave. Whatever was going to happen needed to happen.

Knowing what I know now, I’m not sure that my answer would have been the same.

The normal drunkenness which typically met me when I returned brought with it more violence this night than it ever had before. Had the chair I sat in not broken, I likely would not have survived the events that transpired.

Two days later, after telling my high school boyfriend of the terrible events, he and a dozen or so of his closest friends piled into 6 cars to drive me to my mother’s house and move me out.

To say I was terrified would be an understatement of tremendous proportion. I knew the potential violence that awaited me and warned every person that offered to help. I gave them strict orders to run if I said to and to not look back.

They got me out.

The move and the days that followed were so tremendously traumatic, I honestly do not know if I ever thanked the people who I believe helped to save my life that night.

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I was 39 the last time I was saved.

My marriage had ended and, as I’ve said before, I had nothing. A very loving and generous couple from the church with which I sang offered me their pool house to live in while I got my feet on the ground. Their kindness was a salve to my wounded heart and mind. I know that I was likely not the best tenant they had ever had and I am certain that I have never fully expressed my thanks in way that would let them know how truly grateful I am for their assistance.

All of these people – those that I knew and those I didn’t – sacrificially gave me something that nobody else could offer.

They gave me independence.

Independence from fear, from abuse, from homelessness and starvation.

Each and every one of them has a piece of my heart that will never be replaced by another. They were all physical representations of God’s love for me at those specific times and there is no way I can ever possibly repay them, so instead I choose to take this moment to express my gratitude.

Thank you for your sacrifices – monetary and otherwis – which you freely gave with no expectation of return.

For those known and unknown,thank you for believing I was worth saving and for working so hard to do so. Because you believed in me, I was able to believe a little bit as well.

Most of all, thank you for hearing that voice of God inside your hearts and heeding it so I could grow to become the person I am today. I realize I am far from “finished”, but your gifts were and continue to be blessings I carry forward with every opportunity.

I pray that as we enter into this celebration of the liberty of our country each of you know that I would gladly light up the sky with fireworks if it would give you a glimpse into my overflowing heart. Since I cannot do that, please think of me when you see those beautiful sparks fly and know that each and every one of them represents just a piece of the gratitude that I have for each of you.

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