Because I’m Thinking a Lot About Wintering . . . And How God Can Grow Life in the Dark

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I profess to know little to nothing about farming. I’ve planted a few herbs in my backyard and enjoyed some homegrown tomatoes. One summer, a giant zucchini sprouted out from underneath some overgrown mint I’d planted in the spring. Over half my daughter’s size at the time, it had managed to grow, forgotten and unwatered, for a couple of months. Whereas there are times when our best efforts are needed, there are also times when things grow in spite of us. Some seeds are planted, just before the ground freezes and winter’s chill is looming–what we might deem to be unfavorable circumstances. Onions, garlics, shallots—vegetables that enhance flavor–are planted in the Fall. Out of sight, in soil that is dark and cold, they are wintered ever slowly, to be harvested in the spring and summer.

I can relate to onions. I too have experienced a wintering of sorts. During a dark season, God did not let my heart grow dark. Many times it did not feel that way. I had to batten down the hatches and weather the storm that threatened to drown out what was left of my faith. But instead of trusting my broken heart, I decided to keep trusting in what I knew of God’s heart–that God desired my good regardless of the weather conditions. God could grow anything in the winter.

**Read the orignial post as it appeared on the Cedar Ridge Farm Blog**

A New Year’s Poem

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There are no do-overs.

There are do-betters, don’t-do-its, do-it-agains.

Everything that has been is done.

Nothing can be re-attempted outside of what is known,

outside the filter of everything that has been before.

And if we give something, anything another whirl,

it will spin differently than the first time.

So in this spirit of resolutions, of aspirations for what-may-come,

I lay down my stubborn will and vein attempts to propel myself

any further than I can get by living everyday within my truth.

I am divorced.

I am a single parent.

I am more and more aware everyday of all the ways

in which I am not loveable and, strangely,

for all of these things I’m learning to love myself more.

I embrace my pear-shaped-rear-end.

I embrace my often colorful language.

I embrace living within and without what is and what was.

I embrace that in this crazy funk which is my past and future

coming to terms with one another,

I still find ways to laugh, to love and steal away peace.

Because life has not quite been what I expected,

And that is an understatement at best.

In this new year I resolve to accept what is

without promising myself to be somewhere else by next year.

Happy New Year.

*This poem was written in December, 2015*

I Believe In the Resolution-Makers

This Christmas my church staged a production of Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol.” For as many Christmases as this classic story has aired on television in one rendition or another, I almost ashamedly admit that I’ve never really cared for the story. Often playing amid the backdrop of the Christmas season, I hadn’t paid close attention to the beautiful theme of transformation that played out on stage this year right before my eyes.

Following his haunting encounters with the ghosts of his past, present, and future, Ebenezer Scrooge awakes one morning, transformed and resolute in his commitment to be kind, generous, and benevolent. One by one, Scrooge faces the individuals he has wronged: among them a neglected nephew and a devoted employee. For his hardened heart, he lost his love, so there is no one with whom to reconcile.

While his own transformation is remarkable, what impressed me as I watched Ebeneze Scrooge come to life was the reaction of those with whom he sought to make amends. Though stunned and quite possibly amused at his remarkable metamorphosis, from an insensitive and stingy old man to the incarnation of kindness, no one (at least not in this adaptation) scoffed at his change. There were no remarks of doubt or skepticism towards him, just gracious acceptance for who he had become.

When I was in college, I participated on several student-led committees. In one of them, the faculty member who worked with us had expressed his hope to see an operations manual of sorts be written after we finished our campus-wide event. This would, in turn, provide direction and information to the next group of student leaders planning the same event in following years. Being the leader heading up the week-long seminars and activities involved in our World Opportunities Week, this responsibility fell to me.

What this faculty member did not realize when he expressed his doubt that I would follow-through, based on the performance of previous students was that his skepticism fueled my drive even more. Nothing was more irksome to me than being doubted based on the performance of other people.

I thought to myself, “Oh yea? Well, I’m going to write that manual, and I’ll show him.” If anything, maybe his attitude challenged me. Perhaps he even intended the consequence. I recall a degree of surprise when I pulled out the binder that documented my hard work in organizing the event. My sense of gratification was all the greater because I was making a point. I did not appreciate being doubted because others had disappointed. I had no previous record to indicate that I didn’t finish things, and I would have preferred being given the benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps this New Year, you have made a resolution or two. You might have announced it proudly with wide-eyed optimism, or you may, like me, wish to keep your aspirations for 2015 to yourself.

When making room for resolutions or change of any kind, we each need the support of our friends and family. We might hesitate to announce our aspirations because our enthusiasm has been steam-rolled before by someone whose doubts or lack of encouragement discouraged us.

Even if it’s just from one person, pessimism binds others to failure; it kills the spirit, and it shrinks the heart. How much of the change we so desire in ourselves and our world is stunted by our inability to believe it is even attainable in the first place? Can you imagine something better for yourself? Are you willing to imagine that for someone else?

It can feel safer to shrink into the confines of negativity and doubt because embracing change in others might mean something about us may have to change, and this can be uncomfortable. After all, the choice to change wasn’t ours, yet it calls upon us to respond and may require a change in our perception or attitudes towards another.

What if my best friend does lose 20 pounds? She might look better than me.

What if my spouse starts balancing the check book? Then I won’t be in control anymore.

What if my co-worker gets a promotion? Then I won’t feel as good about myself.

What if my child moves out? Then she won’t need me as much anymore.

Behind our skepticism is a reminder of our own insecurities. Buried underneath our doubt is also a doubt about ourselves. Instead of running the race with our friend, we secure our place on the sidelines of a run that drains the life out of both people. Either way, no one wins.

Imagine a world in which we could celebrate the progress of others and cheer them on in their pursuits. Imagine a world where everyday was about resolution-making because there was just that much to hope for. After all, freeing ourselves up from the compulsion to judge the fortitude of others in fulfilling their own resolutions is, in a way, a testament to our own limitations. Letting go loosens the grip of negativity, and it unleashes the possibility of change for us all.

 

*This post originally published in December, 2015*

I Will Always Believe in Umpa: Hanging on to Holiday Magic

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Just a little over a week ago now, we unpacked the Christmas tree from its yearly resting place under the stairs. My daughter ripped through the decorations, hunting for Umpa, our beloved Elf-on-the-Shelf. I couldn’t remember whether my kids had seen the original Umpa’s replacement after a run-in with our puppy left part of her head chewed off last year.

In haste, I’d purchased a replacement elf on Ebay, hoping she’d look the same. Much to my chagrin, her cheeks were rounder. She was quite clearly not the same. Instead of risking the drama of my children catching on and a clunky explanation of why, I packed the stand-in with our Christmas decorations. In a year, I figured, they’d forget, easily enough, what Umpa really looked like.

I unpacked an assortment of ornaments, each with its own memory of when and by whom it had been added to the collection. Bekah made her way upstairs, puzzled at why Umpa was in a box, not quite asking me why. She pulled off the last of the twisty-ties that confined her to the box and commented to me, knowingly, “Umpa doesn’t look different, at all.” 

A few days after the impostor had been unpacked, Bekah commented on how she wasn’t moving at night. No funny poses. No mischief. She even composed a letter to Umpa, asking her if she didn’t like us anymore. Afraid of letting the magic fade, I contrived a few shenanigans, and we were back in business. Umpa was very much alive and with us again. I’ve noticed, however, that I’m not alone. Bekah has begun to move her too, placing her in silly spots, as if she’s catching on.

As I spread the frosting on her cake tonight, I realized that Bekah didn’t ask for a special cake. She made no requests for Hello Kitty or mermaids. She didn’t mention cake at all. I tossed some blue sprinkles on the chocolate frosting for effect and smudged a bit on Umpa’s nose, all the while, thinking, she knows.

Three years ago, I picked up a silly stuffed doll, smaller than a Barbie with a quirky side-glanced smirk. A year had gone by since my world had collapsed. Hanging in the balance of an uncertain future, I wanted to build some new traditions. This odd little doll was one first step. But it was mine, at least my idea. And it became ours.

I thought about all this tonight as I frosted her cake. The magic of Umpa is fading. I see my little girl in an age-old saga we call “growing up.” And what I find beautiful is that I see her wanting to believe, hanging on to the notion, despite her apparent doubts, that maybe, just maybe, it could be true.

She marvels at Umpa’s antics, and I respond flatly, as if it’s old hat. That Umpa, she’s so silly. But she loves you, oh so deeply. Happy 8th, my sweet, sweet girl. I will always believe in Umpa.

*Originally published on December 11, 2015*

God Is There and Here, Reminding Us: Look At My Eyes

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My drive home this evening on the DC beltway turned out to be the most holy moment in my day–which is nothing short of a miracle if you know anything of DC traffic. I found myself transfixed as a hush fell over my car; both kids fell asleep almost on-command.Early in the drive, I put on Christmas music and asked the kids (ok, more like ordered them) to be quiet– we’d had a very busy day and needed to be quiet. We spent the morning opening Christmas gifts, delivered early by Santa, followed by a last minute decision to join friends for their Christmas pageant in the afternoon. The kids played roles in an informal telling of the Christmas story. As I listened to my favorite Christmas CD, my mind wandered. When I emerged from my peaceful stupor, I realized that I didn’t feel rushed or irritated by the traffic. I hadn’t changed lanes; I hadn’t felt the usual agitation that one can feel when, on none other than a Saturday night, there are no breaks from traffic in DC.

While at my friend’s church this afternoon, more than once I scooped my 4-year-old son up in my arms to step away from the commotion. I whispered in his ear a warning, seeing that his capacity to take much more in without going just a wee bit berserk was waning. In those moments when I don’t feel like I’m heard, much less listened to, I employ the four words I learned in my Montessori camp counseling experience, “look at my eyes.”

Under the influence of God’s peace, I drove home this evening thinking about how easy it is to be sucked into the vortex of meaningless suffering, of the endless why, and the incomprehensible evil that befalls so many on this earth. We ask why; we question; we doubt; yet there is God, urging us . . . . look at my eyes.

Life is sure to disappoint. We are sure to disappoint others. We can so easily be consumed by the hurt we feel at the ignorance of someone’s words or mired in self doubt and self pity. It’s hard to consider the past year without being reminded of all the places that God did not seem to show up. Into those places, in the face of bewildering circumstances, I know no other words to speak than, “Come, Lord, Jesus.”

Yet, God is there–and here–reminding us . . .

Look at my eyes.

In whose eyes do you see peace? Whose heart embodies hope in your life? Whom do you know is a reflection of love and joy?

Look there.

And in those moments when we are bewildered by the inevitable hardships that we both see and experience, keep looking there, for those are the eyes of God.

 

**Originally posted in December, 2013**

Love and Peace To You This Christmas

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The past couple of weeks have been an exercise in emotional highs and lows, vacillating between the anticipation of this season and the disappointment with myself that I am not, well, more perfect. But in this moment, I am thankful that I don’t have to be.

We each carry expectations about what this season should be, what it should mean and how we should feel–all warm and fuzzy-like warm-woolen mittens. The fact that I have an elf-on-the-shelf with its head half chewed-off, compliments of a precocious puppy,  in the top drawer of my dresser speaks to the fact that expectations are just that, expectations. They have no bearing on what will actually happen. Yet, one thing is true. One thing, we can expect.

Each year, God shows up.

Despite all the ugly and grim truths we have witnessed about mankind these last few weeks–that we are indeed not color-blind, that we are underhanded and scheming, and that no good comedy goes unpunished, God is there.

Last night I tried explaining this to my kids in a conversation that bobbled to the top amid my yelling and their not listening, amid the distractions and din of preparations for the great unwrapping of Christmas. There it was, in a moment that surfaced without planning.

God is here. Everywhere. All the time.

And in this season of expectation, of waiting, wanting, hoping, God does not disappoint.

God is here.

So stop what you are doing for a moment; have a beer, a biscuit, or a cinnamon bun and listen. Savor it. And then listen. Listen to the thing that drives you to find the perfect gift, to be with the ones you love, to reach for something that feels elusive but is right there in the reaching, for it is love. And in that love, God is with you. And so is peace.

For that thing we are all waiting for showed up already. Jesus is here.

Love and peace to you this Christmas season

**Originally posted December, 2014**

Expecting Christmas: Navigating the Highs and Lows of the Holidays Post-Divorce

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My first Christmas as a divorced, single mother was an emotional one. I’d spent the last nearly-twenty years making memories with someone who was no longer there to make memories with. As the season approached, I made plans to fly to California on Christmas day and spend a week with my brother and his family; it would be my first Christmas without my kids.

Holidays in general can be tenuous. Add to that the emotional weight of broken or strained relationships, disappointments with how the year has gone, and overly high expectations of your capacity to “deck the hall with boughs of holly,” and it can be tough to find the fa-la-la. I can think, however, of a few ways I have coped through Christmas and other seasons in the years following my divorce when my expectations have needed adjusting. Here are a few tidbits to tuck away that I hope are helpful to you:

Expect Adjustments: A quick read of the Christmas story, and one might surmise that the birth of Jesus required adjusting some expectations. I can’t speak for Mary, but if I had been told that I would be giving birth to the Son of God, I would definitely have some ideas about how that was going to go down. I’d be thinking Jesus was more fit to be born on a bed of roses than a bed of hay, but it just wasn’t so. Instead, Jesus was born in a stable, the air rife with the smell of livestock, after being told there was no room in the inn. I would have had a first world meltdown.

Filtering this story through my own lens leads me to this conclusion: Christmas is a season in which we should expect adjustments. Things might not go according to plan. Approach it, expecting to make some adjustments to your perspective and attitude.

Each year, the relationships we have will include some new, some old, and some over. Instead of holding on to everything that had been just how it was and in the order I remembered it, I had to let go. I had to acknowledge outwardly (even say it to myself) that holidays, namely Christmas, were difficult. It was ok to admit that. I could expect to need some emotional space to adjust to the new reality. Christmas felt different, albeit sad and a little lonelier than I’d ever experienced it. I could expect some sadness and tears. I could also still expect some joy.

Make New Memories: My whole adult life had been spent with a person who was no longer my partner. I wondered which traditions to keep and which to let go of; making rum balls felt like a trigger, so I steered clear of that one. Instead, I threw a Christmas Open House and served homemade empanadas. I bought an artificial tree, instead of a live one, to ease the task of getting it home and decorated, and I purchased an Elf-On-the-Shelf whom my kids lovingly named Umpa. Although I may not have entirely realized it at the time, I was reclaiming Christmas in my own way. I needed to decide what and how to celebrate and with whom. I needed to make new memories.

The challenge of Christmas post-divorce is to simultaneously grieve and celebrate. You can’t change your memories, but you can make new ones. Make a new tradition: follow an Advent calendar, throw a party, or decorate your yard with a slew of inflatable snowmen. Whatever you do, make it your own and relish the joy of making some new memories.

Delay Big Decisions: If you’re fresh off of a divorce or grieving a significant loss, Christmas is going to take some push to get through. Acknowledge that it will be difficult, and give yourself plenty of room to get through it. This past Thanksgiving, I got remarried and am in a new stage of my healing process. I can promise you, it does get better.

Instead of making big life decisions, use that energy to thoughtfully consider what the best way for you to celebrate is going to be. Surround yourself with people who love and care about you, and give yourself permission to delay making significant life decisions.

If you’re recently divorced, your optimism has likely taken a hit, and your resources are stretched. As you think about the Christmas season and the year ahead, consider the kind of person you want to be, rather than what you want to do or accomplish. You and your children, if you have them, have to live with that person. Set goals that help you become the person you want to be given the circumstances you’re actually in, rather than the things you hope to have done by this time next year. Focus on things that feed your core needs–faith, values, and relationships.

You can come out stronger on the other end, but you have to bear the weight of enduring the ups and downs. Take care of yourself. Take one day at a time. Give yourself room to be both happy and sad. This is the heavy-lifting of the healing process that will bulk you up, making each year easier. In the meantime, fortify yourself with the things that bring beauty and joy to the season and remember, you are going to be ok.

Love and peace to you, my friend.