Unless a Grain of Wheat…

“My dad told me this once.  For a wheat seed to come fully into its own, it must become wholly undone.  The shell must break open, its insides must come out, and everything must change.  If you didn’t understand what life looks like, you might mistake it for complete destruction.”

-The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp-

 

I haven’t written lately because I haven’t had much to say.  And because some thoughts take longer to gestate than others.  Sometimes life has a way of washing over you like the ocean wave you didn’t see coming and suddenly,  you’re not thinking in words, you’re just trying to figure out which way is up and how to find your breath again.  Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the older I get, the more I have to fight to hang on to hope and not give in to cynicism.  I have to work harder to see the glass half full instead of half empty.  I worry more than I ever have.  With the way the world is and a house full of present and upcoming teenagers, I recognize how much I stand to lose and how little control I possess.  And I just don’t have enough…enough patience, enough energy, enough love.  Many days feel like a battle, a monotonous drudgery at best.  And I become frustrated with myself that I can’t be more upbeat, less of a Debbie Downer, more like someone else, anyone else…

However, what I am being reminded of, is that there is no one who escapes life without struggle.  It is a part of the cycle of life.  Even if we lived in a utopian world, we would war within ourselves. But like a forgotten memory I am starting to recall a time when I knew better…a time when I was able to hold suffering in greater esteem.  Like birth pain, the struggle is more intense when you fight it, when you try to eradicate it.  I have forgotten that the best way to deal with pain is to breathe and lean into it, remembering that pain can give birth to breathtaking beauty.

I guess the last few months have left me feeling a bit like a wheat seed…like my outer layer has been has been smashed open, my insides spewed carelessly about.  And it kind of feels like complete destruction.  But perhaps, if I can learn to accept all of life with grace, humility and gratitude, this “destruction” can be the springboard into new life.  The Orthodox church has a saying, “Out of death springs life.”  They serve boiled wheat at funerals and memorial services to physically remind people that death is not the end.  It is a good reminder that sometimes we need to be “undone” before we can become “done.”  And like the smallest sprout, I feel hope start to grow again.  Although pain is not something I feel the need to seek out, I also can feel the frantic need to escape it seeping away.  As wind and water can erode granite, so can pain shape and wear away my rough edges.  Sometimes it feels like life cracks us wide open to pain.  But perhaps, it is cracking us open to healing, breaking us so that we can live life fully.  I hope and pray that my soul will settle in, lean in, and learn to graciously accept all that comes to me with peace of soul and the firm conviction that all is sent to me for my benefit.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies…”

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Photo credit to my youngest daughter, Reagan

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Nothing New About This Year

I’m sitting by the fire in my pajamas at 11:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.  Everyone is sleeping or gone.  The smallest tinge of wistful sadness has settled in with the quieting of the house as I look back over the course of this year.  There is a sense of finality with the passing of 2016…another year gone, completely unretrievable.  My oldest will soon be driving on his own, we have no more babies in our home, and I am quickly approaching 40.  Time seems to pass like a hurricane through my raking fingers and I am left gasping and grasping after something that refuses to be caught.

But my sadness is not over the passing of time, nor over the approach of teenagers or mid-life (as I am enjoying both).  Rather it is a sadness over the ways that I have failed to encapsulate and cherish every moment of the last year.  I grieve all of the times that irritability presided over gratitude.  I regret every moment that I rushed through and missed, moments that will never be recovered.  I especially and deeply mourn every unkind and impatient word I’ve wasted on my children (and there are many).  In my mind, I so badly want to suck the marrow out of life and slowly savor every last bit but I so often fail to live this way.

160121_slatest_blizzard-jpg-crop-promo-xlarge2I recognize the irony.  With this being New Year’s Eve, it would be the perfect time to resolve to do things differently next year.  But the fact of the matter is, I know that I won’t.  I will make the same mistakes.  I will fail…and succeed…and fail again.  However, lest I be mistaken for a brooding pessimist, allow for a clarifcation.  This cycle, in my humble opinion, is in fact the very essence of life and I believe it to be exceedingly beautiful.  Life is a compilation of moments: heartaches and joys, peaks and valleys, tragedies and triumphs.  Yet, when standing nose to nose with life, it is not always readily apparent which are the successes and which are the failures.  It is foolish to bask in the glory of freshly fallen sparkling snow, and then curse the very same when it turns to sludge.  So often, our darkest moments become our greatest success stories.

This is why I do not resolve to do anything differently in 2017.  Rather, I resolve to do the same thing day-in and day-out, year after year.  I resolve to accept defeat and success with gratitude, knowing that both are changing and shaping me.  I resolve to put my best foot forward every morning, recognizing that my best may look different one day to the next.  I resolve to accept the snow and the sludge, the sun and the sunburn, the rain and the flood (although I know I will not always accept them gracefully).   Ultimately, I resolve to always struggle…to fall down and get back up and fall and get back up.  It might take me a while to find my feet again, but I will get there…eventually.  For it is in the struggle that we are strengthened and made whole.  I wish you all good strength and a great journey…Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Ugly” Beauty

When my daughter was young we visited a women’s monastery.  There was a young nun tending to the chickens.  By all cultural standards, she was not pretty.  Her face was broken out and scarred, she had thick glasses and braces.  Her dark eyebrows formed a solid line, giving the appearance of a heavy, furrowed brow.  However, she warmly invited my daughter to help feed the chickens.  They chatted and laughed like old friends and when they were finished, my daughter casually remarked to me, “I hope I can be as pretty as she is some day.”  Her statement stopped me dead in my tracks and pointed out my embarrassing and blaring inability to see true beauty.

I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty lately: not the Victoria’s Secret/Hollywood kind of beauty, or even the glowing sun setting over the mountains kind of beauty.  I’ve been mulling over the idea of true beauty…soul beauty.  This kind of beauty might outwardly appear revolting or undesirable at the very least.  But for those that have the eyes to see, it is the purest form of beauty, ignorant of age, race, gender or religion.

I have a lifelong friend who is a cancer survivor.  After she lost her hair and struggled and fought her way through chemo and radiation, her hair began to grow back.  Naturally, she was self-conscious, but as she was bathing one night, her little girl petted her head and offhandedly commented how much she loved her mom’s cute, tiny baby hairs.  Those little stubbles of hair growing out of a bald head were beautiful.  My dear friend in a weakened state of vulnerability was beautiful.  It just took someone with the eyes to see.

I have another friend who while walking toward an elevator got stuck behind a slow moving mother and her child with special needs.  The child walked abnormally, shuffle-shuffle-clap, shuffle-shuffle-clap.  The mother was trying to move her child along to allow people through and apologetically glanced back at my friend.  Before the mother had time to offer an apology, my friend enthusiastically exclaimed, “Look at your beautiful child! He’s clapping to the rhythm of his steps perfectly!”  The shocked mother admitted that this was indeed what he was doing.  A child finding his own rhythm was beautiful.  A mother trying to be sensitive not only to her child, but to those around her was beautiful.  It just took someone with the eyes to see.

In each of these cases, our well-intentioned society might try to “fix” that which is “ugly”…make-up and a wax job for the sweet nun, a wig for my friend with cancer, therapy for the child walking irregularly…thus allegedly beautifying each scenario.  But in doing so, we dictate what we think beauty SHOULD look like and lose sight of what true beauty actually is.  True beauty functions like a magnet.  Those who are unable to perceive it will be repelled and perhaps even repulsed.  But for those that have eyes to see, true beauty will attract, draw in, and connect people on a soul level.

I realize that I severely lack the eyes to see.  I feel sorrowful when I recognize how much of my own soul is uncultivated, wild, ugly even.  But in order to avoid hypocrisy, I must practice seeing the beauty in my own soul.  I must nourish what is good within me instead of dwelling on that which is lacking.  And like a novice photographer sharpening his eye for what will make a good photograph, perhaps my vision will become clearer, less muddled by the confines of society, more free to see what is true and pure, more grounded in that which is real.  May we all have the clarity of soul to see the true beauty that is found in the “ugly”.

 

You Are Enough.

13323703_1046851035408719_7118944347292993062_oTo my new friend…and for anyone else who is struggling to feel that they are “enough…”

I can see you have a hard time recognizing the beautiful person you are and all of the wonderful things that you do.  I shared that until you are able to see for yourself how amazing you are, you would have to learn to trust those who best know you.  I realize that I just met you and don’t yet qualify for that role.  But I have been where you are and my heart hurts because I understand how you feel.

You approached me because of our shared struggle in raising special needs kids.  My impression of you right off was that you live with gratitude (you didn’t have to come up to me to say thank you), and you are courageous (for being vulnerable with someone you just met).  I quickly realized that you are exceptionally amazing because you willingly chose to bring two struggling children (that are not yours by birth) into your practically empty-nest home.  I don’t know if you recognize the magnitude of this choice.  It doesn’t matter if you have been scared or have second guessed yourself…you willingly exchanged your life for theirs and there is no greater love than this.

And forgive me, but I Facebook stalked you tonight.  I looked at your pictures and I didn’t see irritability or failure or anything else that you mentioned.  What I did see was a strong woman fighting to give two children a normal life; children that would have otherwise been lost to the proverbial system.  I saw two children living in a house surrounded with beautifully tended flowers and attending church in a loving community.  I saw birthday parties, extravagant school projects, Halloween costumes…all things that these children would never know without you.  I saw your beautiful smile in many pictures.  How many forgotten children never receive a genuine smile?  Do you realize what normalcy, consistency and safety you are giving to these kids?

Of course I know that there is more to meet the eye than what is portrayed on social media.  I know that you rage and cry and scream and want to drive off in your car and never look back.  But I also know WHY you feel this way.  It is NOT because of who YOU are.  It is because of the situation you are in and the ways you are being stretched and pushed beyond your capacity.  You are strong day in and day out.  You can’t even truly rest while you sleep because of the dreams and nightmares.  You are trying to love two children as your own, even though you missed out on the essential bonding years of infancy.  Not only that, but you work full time!!  In my book, this certainly qualifies you for some kind of major award! 

I can see that you truly want the best for these kids.  You really love them.  But I can also see that you’re tired, you’re depleted and you’re running on fumes.  You are human and you have a limited amount of time and energy.  So you have to, for everyone’s sake, eliminate all the needless junk in your life.  By this, I mean get rid of the self-imposed guilt.  Expel the hovering, vicious thoughts telling you that you’re failing.  And especially, eliminate (as you are able) all of the self-doubt that pushes you to believe that you’re not good enough, patient enough, loving enough, whatever enough.  You are you and that is enough.  At the end of every day you are empty.  This is because you have given everything so that they might want for nothing .  It will never feel like enough because they are bottomless pits at this point (regarding their neediness).  But with time, maybe their special needs will be less because of the backbreaking work you are putting forth now. 

Above all, try to look at yourself and everything around you with soft eyes.  Pursue beauty and that which feeds your soul.  Your face lit up when you talked about books…maybe you could make yourself a cozy reading niche?  Perhaps gardening or photography are undiscovered talents?  Regardless, figure out how to love, cherish, and respect yourself.  It is not selfish…it is survival.  Celebrate the small things, turn your morning coffee into a  sacred ritual.  Give yourself permission to sit and do nothing without judgment.  Fight for joy and pray for the eyes to see light and beauty. 

quotes_creator_20161219_090518And though I don’t know you well, know that I love you.  We are connected through our struggles and sufferings and I understand.  I understand that you sometimes feel trapped in your own life.  I recognize that you constantly feel as if you are on the verge of a mental breakdown and I am all too acutely aware of the guilt that has become your constant unwanted companion.  But I also see that you are strong enough.  You will have to work hard at resting, strive to surround yourself with love, and be a continual advocate for yourself and your family.  But I know that you can do it.  Hang in there and believe me when I say that you are amazing.  Good strength!

The Nakedness of Suffering

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The Prodigal by Emile Salome

Our little town prematurely lost a teenager to suicide yesterday.  Everyone is feeling the weight of something like this happening so close to home.   And the fact of the matter is that there are no words to offer, nothing to be said that can alleviate or comfort anyone who is truly suffering.  Suffering is pure blackness.  It is a deep, dark pit with room for only one.  Meals can be made, words of consolation spoken, but at the end of the day, no one can help carry the pain.  No one can make time pass more quickly.  The only way through suffering is right down the middle…there is no bypass.

However for those standing on the outside looking in, tragedy and suffering act like a flash forest fire.  In an instant, everything superfluous gets burned away like dross.  We are stripped of all pretenses and become aware of our mortality, the shortness of life and what we are living for that truly matters. We become painstakingly aware of how our priorities have gotten off-kilter, how busyness is running our life, and how unappreciative we have become.  We see with clarity (if only temporarily) what is important in life.

In other countries where monasteries still play a major part in daily life, the first thing that a monk often does is to dig the grave that he will one day be buried in.  This is not due to a morbid fascination with death, but rather as a reminder to live well so as to be prepared for death. What would life look like if we could preserve the somberness, the softness and the vulnerability of suffering?  What if we could more consistently expose our weaknesses, our pain and our naked self without fear of condemnation?  What if we all dared to live a more authentic life?

There is nothing that will lighten the load of the tragedy that has taken place.  Nothing will comfort a grieving mother struggling to survive her first day without her son.  But perhaps through our response, we can redeem what has been lost and live longer in this gift that suffering has to offer.  Love and prayers for anyone who is suffering today…

 

Reading Color

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Today I met the most amazing man.  He is an older gentleman from Greece and he writes (draws) icons for Orthodox churches. He was sweet and funny but what I found fascinating was his ability to see color.  Now anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit obsessed with color. I love the undertones, the way they change from wall to wall, from day to night. I love colors that look blue and gray and green all at once, to where you almost don’t know what color you’re looking at.  I would get a Ph.D. in color if there was such a thing!  This is very different than my husband, who when asked which paint swatch he likes best, responds with a shrug and says that they all look the same (bless his heart, as they say in the South).  But I digress…back to the iconographer. What amazed me about this man is that he not only can read color, he  knows how to MAKE it!  He can look at a color and know how much black and white and red and yellow and blue would be required to CREATE any color!  He knows what to add if it’s too dark or how much to add if it’s too light and what colors enhance the richness of others.  This might be silly but it honestly mesmerized me.  I’ve been thinking about it all day.  What talent and skill!

soulAnd so I have come to this thought tonight…what if we could look at people the way that this artist looks at color?  What if we could have insight into the creation of their personhood, how they became who they are…their ups and downs, sorrows and joys, the moments that have either broken or resurrected them, what they currently long for?  What if we could discern exactly what “color” to add to enhance other’s lives and beautify their existence?  How much more patient and compassionate would we all become?  What if we could learn to look at OURSELVES this way?!  What if today, instead of seeing my irritability and the dishes and the messes and everything that feels like a failure, what if I could look at myself like a color, complex with constantly changing undertones, drastically different in the morning light, but beautiful nonetheless.

But alas, my eye is not quite as developed as this skilled artisan.  I still see only in tones and shadows.  I do not look deep enough or close enough.  The late author Jonathan Swift writes that, “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”  Oh, that I might have the eyes to see that which remains hidden in every person, and the knowledge of what to add so that fullness of color might be achieved.   Perhaps over the course of my life, I will hone my skill and attain proficiency.  In the meantime, I will remain restlessly content to aspire to those who have inspired.