the art of surrender

Reading Courtney Carver’s blog, The Soul Shaking Practice of Surrender this morning was perfectly timed. She concluded her post with the question, ‘What do you need to surrender?’

I didn’t have to ponder or figure anything out.
I knew.

Surrender mixes pain with joy; that magic elixir of growth. I have been hanging on in a desperate fashion. Determined movements that kept me firmly attached to the past.

My husband and I have recently moved to a new state. I saw it happening before we moved, but it has only increased since being here. Friends – and family – have pulled away. I have gone through various stages of separation: bitterness that they let me go so freely. Determination to keep the lines of communication open. Denial that our relationships could remain unscathed. Desperation. Sadness. Loneliness. And now….surrender.

I started my new job this week (excited, but dotted with the realization that no one from back home even asked about it), I realized there are new people for me to meet. Church-finding has been a long and tedious process, but there will be new friends in the place God has in mind for us.

People are busy. Their intents are not malicious. But I need two-way relationships. If I’m not getting replies or questions about my life as we discuss theirs, then I need to gently lay them down. I need to take a step back and say a deep and genuinely-felt prayer for them. For their families. For their goals and dreams. And then, I need to walk away.

Surrendering unmet expectations.
Surrendering any lingering bitterness.
Surrendering my understanding that my friendships should be rooted in the past.
Surrendering the idea that the best has already happened.

Surrendering those that have not stayed in contact with me.

Then happily and contently begin the anticipation of what friends are ahead for me to meet.

I have told many a friend in a difficult relationship, “Dating shouldn’t be this hard. Something is clearly not right.” I am employing that same theory to other relationships. If I feel desperate’y and grippy’y and resentful’y…then something is not right. Friendships/family relationships shouldn’t be this hard.

It is easy to walk away.
It is more difficult to surrender any resentment before walking away.

I am committing to surrendering those ugly feelings I’ve been white-knuckling and am looking toward the potential friendships that are just right around the next curve…

In surrender you can stop thinking and plotting and planning. You can stop changing people or believing you can. Surrender allows you to trust that things in this moment are the way they should be. You are ok right where you are. ~Courtney Carver

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The world needs your story.

As I read this piece by Sarah Bessey, I so passionately wanted to shake the shoulders of my daughters and nieces. I thought of friends that have been dulled by life’s adversities. My own soul reached out and grabbed the strength and freedom for which Sarah spoke. I thought of women who have gone before me. Women who have traveled greater lengths than I and how strongly their lives guide my own life’s direction.

But mostly, I thanked God that even in times when women are still jockeying for better positions or categorized as focus groups for politicians – that now, in 2012, our worth and value has never been determined by name brand or waist size or networking capabilities. Christ has held us in high regard from the beginning. He has trusted our abilities far greater than we ourselves do, most of the time. We serve a higher purpose. We are loved more than is comprehensible. Our equality was determined at the well and at the foot of the cross and with the halting of a stone’s throw. We are proudly listed in the Board of Directors list of genealogy as a gender of great esteem.

For the women I love so dearly, I lift you daily to God’s care. Your hurt is felt more deeply than you know. Your struggle with popularity or love or acceptance has been felt throughout time by millions of women before; struggling with the same thoughts of inferiority and internal struggle. Do not coddle those thoughts nor succumb to their appeal.

You were specifically created for so much more…

Stop waiting for permission.

Stop waiting for someone to say that you count, that you matter, that you have worth, that you have a voice, that you have a place, that you are called. Stop waiting for someone else to validate the person that you already know you were made to be. Stop holding your breath, sister, working to earn through your apologetics and memorized arguments, and your quietness, your submission and your “correct” doctrine what God has already freely given to you.

Because, darling, you are valuable. You have worth, not because of your gender or your calling or your marital status or your labels or your underlined books or your accomplishments or your checked-off tick boxes next to the job description of Proverbs 31.

In Christ, you have value beyond all of that. You abide in love, you can rest in your God-breathed worth.

Let me remind you: you are loved. And you are free.

What is the cry of your heart? Pay attention to that. Listen to what makes you angry, honour what makes your blood pump faster, what makes you come fully alive. Now go. And do. You know Jesus, you have experienced the power and the grace with your own life, you have felt it in your own heart, now go, heal, disciple, minister, love, and do likewise. Speak, breathe, prophesy, preach, get behind a pulpit, mark exam papers, run a company or a non-profit, clean your kitchen, put paint on a canvas, organize, rabble-rouse, work the Love out and in and around you, however God has made you to do it, just do it. Don’t let them fence you in or hold you back.

Love your spouse, love your babies, love the poor, love the orphans, love the widows, love the powerful, love the broken and the hurting, love your friends, love yourself, love your enemies, come to love the whole world in the fullness of God, in the full expression of the woman that he has created you to be, just that, no more, but certainly no less.

Choose freedom. Choose the freedom of living loved, far from their tables and debates and fence lines and name-callings, their belittling, divisive stereotypes. Extend the gift of freedom and grace, second chances, and more grace, just as you have received them. As e.e. cummings wrote, it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. You really are created, you really are chosen, you really are cherished, so you really can be who you are. Live counterculture when the culture does not affirm truth, love, faith, mercy, and justice.

It matters because you matter, because your daughters matter, because your sisters matter, because the people of God, and the entirety of his created world matters, because redemption matters. So we’ll keep up the holy work, however that looks, we’ll keep worshipping, keep loving, keep making space for God in the world, and in each other for holy grace to fill. The kingdom of God would be better with your voice, your hands, your experiences, your stories, your truth. You can go where I cannot go, and someone needs to hear you sing your song, you are someone’s invitation.

You are loved.

Rest in your God-breathed worth. Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head, dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice, dulling your mind, satiating your hunger with the lesser things of this world.

I love you with an unexplained love. I believe in you passionately and am proud of your continued growth. I cannot fathom that anyone could love you more than I do. But He does. So much more. He was your Creator. He knows what makes you tick and what outcomes will bring you the most joy. Trust that. Lean into that. And continue to be the beautiful, shining beam that you are right now. Keep making space in your heart for grace. And a place in your life for Him.

I love you with all of my heart…

Grandma Shirley

Scott’s grandmother died on Monday of this week. She was a glorious 91 years old.

Scott has been putting together a video for her funeral on Friday. It has been so enjoyable to look through the many pictures family members have been sending him over the past few weeks. It has been a treat seeing Grandma Shirley, as well as Kansas City, over this past decade.

Monday evening we went over to her assisted living room to help move things out. Scott’s mom, Joanne, called us in the afternoon and asked if there was anything we wanted. My mind immediately went to two things:

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Grandma Shirley was an avid crossword puzzle fan. (I mentioned 91 YEARS OLD, right?!) Her mind has been amazingly sharp as she aged. I wanted one of her crossword books, with her handwriting.

Each time we visited her I couldn’t help but notice her “bedazzled” emory board on the table next to her chair. It always made me smile and think, “When I’m in my 90’s, I hope I still have a fondness for shiny (gawdy!) things!!”

On Monday night we came home with a few other little things that were a part of her lovely life. Ceramic boxes to hold whatever treasures one might need. Mirrors. Her copy of ‘Purpose Driven Life’…(one doesn’t live to 91 without a purpose-filled life.) The crucifix she kept in her bedroom.

Relatively small things that make me smile when I see them. Things that won’t be boxed up, but will become a part of our life now.

I also wanted this:

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One time Scott and I gave her a cd of music that we thought she would enjoy. She told us she particularly liked the piano music and wondered if we could make her a copy of some more of it. Scott’s dad, Larry, had some piano music cds, so he burned her a copy of them onto one large disk.

But guess who got the credit for it all?
Guess who she thanked – each.and.every.time we were together?

Me.

She credited me for that compilation gesture for over a year. In fact, the last time we saw her (last month), she called me into her room to thank me again for that beautiful music cd.

It became a family joke.

I always smiled and reassured her I was glad she liked it.

Graciousness.
A beautiful quality. One I readily recognized from my own mother.

During a visit Scott and I had with her last year she commented that, “all my children are involved in church. They’re not all Catholic, but that’s okay! They’re all Christians.

This, from a staunchly Catholic 91-year-old. As with so many things in life, we begin to sift the important from the unimportant. A relationship with Christ was of greater concern to her than what denomination her six children were affiliated with. What a wonderful gift for any mother to rest into.

Be thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart…

She requested her funeral NOT be in a Catholic church. If there was communion, she wanted everyone to have the chance to participate. She wanted her son, a pastor in Florida, to be able to officiate.

She wanted her family and friends to be on equal footing. Faith, trumping doctrine.

Be thou my Wisdom…

In the busyness as we prepare for out-of-town family members to arrive and dinners to be made and plans to be cemented, I have found myself listening to this song on repeat many times.

True, it is my favorite artist. But the words seem so appropriate for Grandma Shirley. Her last weeks were difficult, physically. She told me she wasn’t sure she should be, but she was praying to be taken Home. I squeezed her hand tightly and told her it was fine. To get there before us and make sure everything was ready; we’d be along soon enough.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high tower.
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Maybe they won’t want me to stay,” she quipped with a weak laugh.
They might find out you’re more trouble than you’re worth!,” I laughed back with her.

The last conversation I had with her just a few weeks ago. A quick wit to the very end.

Grandma Shirley, your victory has been won.
I am so very thankful that you are basking in the bright Heaven’s sun. Pain-free and laughing with the saints.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

It was a gift to know her. She strongly welcomed me into the family. She was my advocate. My friend.

…Thou in my dwelling, and I with Thee one.

———-

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I need not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

stability in the midst of change

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I walked the family compound this morning. I’m the only one here, yet life surges all around me. As I sit in the shade I am amused at the crazy rooster in the distance that seems to have no real understanding of his life’s purpose. He’s cockadoodling for all he’s worth as the sun reaches its highest position of the day. I am not certain if he’s a late riser or simply enjoys the cockling sounds of his throat.

It is an amazing stability in life, that all things have a purpose and a rhythm. As our family makes the hushed-tone phonecalls to each other, as one of our members is easing her way into heaven, the birds continue to gather food, the bugs flit from stalk to stalk, buzzing loudly past my ear as they commute. The trees are holding their positions firmly this morning as the wind tries to seduce them with the dance of the early morning breeze. Trees know their positions, however, like the soldiers at Windsor’s Palace. They know they must stand strong; that people are relying on their stoic rootedness.

When family and friends are here on the compound, so many noises are taken for granted, trumped by the sounds of people talking loudly and telling jokes as well as the triumphant splash of another thrill-seeker sinking into the murkiness of the lake’s cool waters. Yet on my walk this morning, the gravel seemed unusually loud, echoing the many converging thoughts in my mind. Ideas and fears I’m not quite ready to lay out in the open just yet, to trample through like gravel, paving my path ahead.

The steep hill to the gates seem to mock my leg each time I stand at its base and look up. But with each continuous step, I am reminded of the strength and growth I have acquired since those early days in the hospital, leaning entirely into a walker for support. Making it to the top of the hill reinforces the unsinkable will of the human spirit and our ever-present need for strength-training our lives.

Thank you, Lord, for the top of the hill. Grandma Shirley is trying to maneuver the slippery gravel at the moment. She knows her mountaintop prize. Her 91 years of living and loving and giving are telling her spirit it’s time to go home. It’s time to go meet her Heavenly Father.

I know you will welcome her lovingly; gingerly offering her your arm to lean into. I hope you’ll give her a minute to retouch her lipstick, blotting it with a Kleenex, before meeting the rest of the gang.

Grandma Shirley has served you to the best of her ability. She has loved six strong children into adulthood and watched her numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren develop into their own independent lives. Her face was happy recently when she said to me, “All my children are Christians. They’re not all Catholic, but that’s okay too.”

She’s learned the magnitude of an authentic relationship with Christ. And in that, she truly rests.

P.S. Please have Martha check on Heaven’s fine china set. I’m sure she’ll want to have a piece of cake and a small glass of exquisite wine as well.

Take care of her, Lord. The rest of us will be along shortly…

Rock. And roll.

Ever notice how some phrases and words get all the bad rap while others seem to enjoy the limelight just by their mere mentioning?

Smear.
Not a word that conjures up a lot of positive warm fuzzies.

Soaring.
Mmm…lots of thoughts of rising above a situation as well as mind-altering dentist office décor.

Traditionally, the word ‘rock’ has enjoyed a pretty positive light.
He’s my rock…
The bedrock of the organization…
Rock of ages…

But how many times have you been stuck between a rock and a hard place? How many times has it seemed a huge boulder stood in the way of your forward motion?

I’m wondering what your ‘rock’ is today.
Is it financial? A mortgage that has taken you way in over your head.
Relational? A friendship that seems to cyclically end with hurt feelings.
A marriage that seems to harbor more bitterness than respect?
The loss of a dream…or the dog-tail-frustration of simply trying to find a direction for your life?
Medical problems that were unforeseen or prematurely debilitating?

What is your rock?

They seem enormous at times, dauntingly overshadowing the possibilities of growth or healing. Seems just the time we round the corner and feel we are making progress they drop out of the sky to force us to take – yet again – another route.

I cannot imagine what the disciples must have been thinking as they trudged through Holy Week. I’m pretty sure if the term ‘WTF’ had been around, surely they would have expressed that to each other many times as they sat together , wringing their hands in confusion and utter disappointment.

The picture of the cross seems to be the universal sign of Easter. Many times it is draped in purple, signifying Christ’s ultimate resurrection. Defying the finality of death.

But perhaps second to the triumphant picture of the cross, is the bewilderment held in the picture of the rock, rolled away from the tomb.

Where was he?!
Where did he go?!
I saw him die; didn’t you see him die?
Who has messed with his burial place??

That’s the picture I treasure the most: the rolled away rock. It is usually depicted in pretty much the same way. Round rock. Round tomb. Dark hole. Lots of dusty dirt and some sparing greenery.

Yet that’s the picture I have seen time and time again in my life.
Obstacles.
Immoveable problems.
Insurmountable grief.

Rocks.

I love that the story does not say God zapped the rock and blew it into smithereens. I love that the rock is still there. Still in the picture. Still present. Still daunting.

Just moved.
Slightly to the right.

In a few days, Christians worldwide will celebrate our highest tradition. Our biggest story. The Mt. Everest of our faith. Our strongest symbol of hope. Easter is a time of renewal and a time of death-conquering symbolism of what God is capable of doing in each of our lives.

For me, however, I like the rock.

Christ arose.
Died a human death. Then God brought him back to life.

But first, He had to move a rock.

He didn’t eliminate it.
He just moved it out of the way, so that Christ’s exit strategy could be realized.
The rock had to move so Christ could step forward.

What rock do you need moved?
You are wrong if you expect it will magically disappear.
But are you anticipating that it will be moved? Just far enough that you can step forward, and into a better life?

You can’t do it alone.
I know a Rock Mover, however, that specializes in rocks. And roll.

beauty: a baby dedication

I first became aware of Scott Phelps at Palmer Jr High School. While I can’t tell you what classes we had together, I’m sure that we did. I know that our paths crossed. But eventually, we ran in different circles and were acquaintenances, at best.

What I didn’t realize is that Scott Phelps did run around with my Scott in high school. And he’s the kind of guy, that remains friends for life.

I don’t personally know Phelps’ story first hand, but I’ve heard parts of it from Scott. Like all of us, Phelps’ story is one of twists and turns. Souring high and sometimes, walking in the desert. Literally. Walking in the deserts of Iraq as one of our country’s veterans. That was the Phelps of then.

When Scott and I were dating, we visited the Phelps of now. And his wonderfully sweet wife, Jessica. When you fast-forward 30 years from junior high, you find a man with four sons and a new start. A new marriage. A new career.

Six weeks ago, Scott and Jessica Phelps gave birth to an absolutely beautiful girl, Rain. Can you imagine being the lucky girl who was born into a house with all those sons? As you can imagine, she is pink and frilly and as gentle and delicate as there ever were.

Scott and I were honored to be invited to Rain’s baby blessing on Sunday. Sitting toward the back of the church I smiled as I watched the all-too-familiar look of panic on the faces of Scott and Jessica as they rocked and coo’ed Rain – hoping she would hold out until the service was over. Wondering if she would wail in the middle of the prayer. I remember that feeling so distinctly from Baird and Hannah’s baby dedication.

As they were called up to the front of the sanctuary, I snuck up front to take a few pictures…

a proud mama –

I was just going to take pictures.

And then, I was overcome with the display of grace standing before me. God’s faithfulness… God’s persistent pursuit of His children… God’s protection.

The story of Mercy was standing a few feet away from me: Scott and his incredible boys. The gift of Jessica that God blessed Scott with a few years back. Parents who prayed for this day without knowing what names would be inserted into the blanks, but praying nonetheless.

It is difficult to take pictures while your heart is bursting with gratitude and with eyes filled with hot tears of pride for a friend. And the humbling assurance that the grace that Scott has experienced is the same grace that covers my own life experiences.

Thank you, Rain, for the being the avenue to remind me in a visual way that God’s love has no boundaries.

And then, both of them peeking out from their moment of prayer, the pride and love of two parents exploded on both Scott and Jessica’s faces…

God’s gift of children.
God’s gift of forgiveness.
God’s gift of family and friends.

I’m excited to see the paths that Rain will walk.

I have no doubt that she will always have two parents – and 4 big brothers! – who will love and protect and spoil her abundantly.

And may you always, love the color pink…

Jan. 7: How’s those resolutions workin’ for ya?

Have you abandoned – and/or modified – your New Year’s resolutions yet? Did you know 95% of resolutions are broken by the end of January? So you are by no means alone if you are struggling under the weight of de-motivation.

I’m reading an interesting book right now that corresponds with the beginning of a new year nicely. As per usual, when I’m reading a book, I have to unpack all the thoughts that are piling up in my mind on that particular subject. And how do I unpack? To you, my blog reader.

The problem with resolution struggles is not our desire to change. I remember when Larry was first diagnosed with adult ADHD. I remember he read something in a book that resonated loudly with him – the concept that society keeps implying to someone battling ADHD that if they would only try harder they could accomplish their goals. This only exacerbates the cyclical frustration of the person not understanding why they can’t just stick to something and get it done. There might be some other factors (chemical imbalance, for one) that might be blocking us from success.

ADHD or not, we all fight with that aggravation within ourselves: 1. I’m disappointed in myself for not accomplishing what I set out to do… 2. This must mean I’m not capable of such lofty goals… 3. I knew I couldn’t do it before I ever began… 4. I’m so frustrated that everyone else seems to be getting it so much easier than I am… 5. I quit.

As a society we have accepted the idea that if we merely muster enough willpower to do something, then we’ll be able to reach the finish line.

Try harder.
Push further.
Fight longer.

You know the drill.

James Bryan Smith (author of The Good and Beautiful God) states:

The will is neither strong nor weak. Like a horse, it has only one task: to do what the rider (the mind, influenced by the body and society) tells it to do. Change happens when these other influencers are modified. When new ideas, new practices and new social settings are adopted, change happens.

We change not by mustering up willpower but by changing the way we think, which will also involve changing our actions and our social environment.

Smith goes on to discuss the narratives we all possess in our minds. I’m sure that’s not a new concept to you; we have all heard or read about the negative talk in our minds.

But knowing it – and following it – are sometimes two separate entities in my life. I don’t know about you, but I would assume there are a few of you like me out there.

Think about a play that you’ve seen in which a Narrator was the guiding direction for the entire production.

Player #1 says something.
Player #2 replies.
Narrator interprets what they really felt or meant by what was audibly said.

Narrator:
“And now we see Greta, sitting at her computer typing, wondering if that second piece of pie would truly do much damage….”

“Greta ponders, as she applies those various make-up products, if age is something to embrace or fight against…”

Etc., etc.

The Narrator somehow has the inside track.
The Narrator knows what the actors are thinking.
The Narrator sees the script and relays the backstory as the current scene is being played out.

We all have that Narrator lurking around in our minds.
Reminding us of what we were…
Magnifying what is…
Foreshadowing what is to come.

The real task for us is to break the 4th wall, as they say in the theater.
Walk out on the stage of our minds and hook the Narrator around the neck and drag him off stage.

“Script change!”

Insert new characters in your story: postive ones. Ones that support you and believe in who you truly are.
Allow an antagonist: a person who will challenge you to think beyond your normal patterns.
Swoon over the hero of the play. Gravitate toward those persons who loves you heroically.

Be good to the main character:
Give yourself a director’s chair with your name on it.
Demand coffee and rose petals in your path.

Re-write some lines.
Hire good editors. People who will re-write part of your thinking.

We cannot change simply by saying, “I want to change.” We have to examine what we think (our narratives) and how we practice (the spiritual disciplines) and who we are interacting with (our social context.)

We do not need to live perfect lives. Let yourself off the hook on that one. We cannot; nor are we expected to. Jesus covered that one for us. On our behalf. All we have to do is look at Him and say, “Yeah. What he said. I’m with Him.”

What we truly desire, what we are most passionate about, will determine how we organize our lives.

If you’re trying to make some changes to your life in 2011, you might be focusing on the wrong thing and therefore beating yourself up about undesirable outcomes. Perhaps in order to change that habit you need to change some other things first: your environment… your reading or media intake… your sleeping habits… your refridgerator contents…

…your thought patterns.

Be good to yourself.
I’m willing to bet that changes (resolutions) will follow.