Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Land of the Living

(This was originally published by On Coming Alive on August 25, 2016.)

"There is a land of the living and the land of the dead and 
the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." 
~Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Sometimes it's difficult to see the beauty in being broken.

It's especially hard when the rest of the world moves on while you are left straggling behind, haphazardly picking up fragments of yourself and sloppily piecing them back together. You become acutely aware that, at any given moment, you might very well just fall apart. People keep their distance for fear of getting pierced by the slivers and shards of your splintered heart. But it's in that moment, in that state-- when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable-- shattered almost beyond repair and beyond recognition, that we are the most usable vessels. Authenticity begins to seep through the cracks when hope holds us together like glue.

It was July when I was slowly and quietly disappearing in a downward spiral.

Like the tiny whirlpool at the bottom of the bathtub just before the water falls down the drain. I put on a black hand-me-down dress that I found in my closet and stared vacantly as a stranger lowered my dead baby down into the ground. The parade of solemn faces at the funeral became a confusing blur and the sound of hushed condolences a muffled drone. I came home to bouquets of limp flowers hanging on for dear life. Although sent with good intentions, they all eventually hung their heads and surrendered their last breaths. I was surrounded by death. 

It was everywhere. I could breathe it in. It was the land of the living dead. 

But my infant son wasn't the only one buried that day. The me that I used to know, along with all of my great expectations for the man he would become, how my life would look with him in it, and the way our lives would intersect and intertwine and wind increasingly together like vines, were also shoveled down into the dirt. I died, too, that day. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. 

We were both planted together deep into the damp coolness of the earth. 

Like seeds. Seeds watered with the tears of all those who loved us. Seeds lying dormant for a time, yet still so full of hope and promise. And in that moment, hidden away there in the darkness, "I might have despaired unless I believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Psalm 27:13). And so it was, with a seed of faith and an inkling of hope in things yet unseen, that I waited. 

In the depths of despair, I waited on the Lord. 

Then, at just the precise moment--right when I had begun to think He had abandoned me--He made good on His promise. Slowly, I started to rise. The soil above my head began to give way. I strained my unaccustomed eyes toward the light and felt the sun's warm rays greet the paleness of my face. The gentle wind blew wisps of hair in my face and seemed to whisper softly in my ears:

"Come back."

"Come back to the land of the living. We have all been waiting for you here. You will learn to smile again. You will learn to laugh again. Give yourself permission to be happy. All that pain was not for nothing. It had meaning and it had purpose. It was for this moment. Right here. Right now. Those were just the birth pangs, and this--this is the moment you are coming alive."

It was in this moment I realized that "u
nless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). It was in this moment I realized that the end is really just the beginning. The beginning of finding beauty in being broken. The beginning of bearing much fruit. The beginning of smiling and laughing and happiness once again--not despite the hole he left in my heart, but because of it. 

Because I was born to be free. He was born to free me.

This is the moment I am coming alive.

"For you have rescued my soul from death, my eyes 
from tears, my feet from stumbling. I shall walk before 
the Lord in the land of the living." ~Psalm 116:9

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Measure of a Man

(A version of this was originally published by Your Tango on August 16, 2016.)
(A version of this was also published by Today's Mama on October 2, 2016.)

I wish you could see the look on some people's faces when I tell them my husband homeschools our kids. It's like, "First of all, homeschool? What is this, a cult?" And secondly, "Your husband does it? What is wrong with this family?"

I will admit, my husband and I do not fit the usual gender stereotypes AT ALL.

So, good luck trying to stuff us inside of one of those boxes. My husband gets teary-eyed during sappy movies and he loves to talk about his feelings. He's a much better shopper than I am. He's so great with kids that they follow him around like he's the Pied Piper.

I, on the other hand, am kind of a stoic.

When I want to express how I feel, I write about it. I'm a minimalist when it comes to word count and it takes a lot to make me cry. I love kids, but I'm no Pied Piper, and I think there might be a hole in the bottom of my patience jar.

So, it should come as no surprise that we don't fit the traditional marriage roles either. I'm a public school teacher and I currently bring home the bulk of the bacon (as much as a public school teacher can). And yes, I can also fry it up in a pan. He homeschools our kids by day and coaches a swim team by night. This works best for our family. A lesser man might feel his manhood being threatened by his wife making more money than him, but we view it as a team effort.

When I was growing up in the Bible Belt, I thought the f-word was feminism.

Now that I am older and wiser, I think Christianity and feminism need not be mutually exclusive. If feminism means leveling the playing field between women and men, then perhaps Jesus himself was a feminist. He was all about upsetting the status-quo and defying cultural mores. Like when he stood between the adulterous woman and the men who were determined to throw stones. When he allowed a prostitute to bathe his feet with her tears and an alabaster jar of perfume, much to the dismay of his disapproving disciples. When he spoke without judgement to an outcast woman and invited her to drink from the well that would never run dry.

I am not an angry, man-hating feminist, but I'm no doormat either.

We southern girls don't do a very good job of hiding our crazy. We also make no apologies for loving our Lord and Savior and we're not at all ashamed about being called Jesus-freaks. And just so you know, the Bible I read teaches gender equality. It says we have been clothed with Christ, so there is no longer male nor female. We are all ONE in Christ Jesus. However, it does specify that the husband should be the servant-leader of the family unit. So, I voluntarily follow behind my husband as he trail-blazes the path on the road less traveled.

In the same breath that the Bible says the husband should lead, it also says he should give himself up for his wife, just as Christ gave himself up for the church. My husband does this for me daily. He has never expected me to take a back seat to his career. He chose to resign from the rat race to make sure our kids receive the kind of education we want them to have. And by the way, I don't need my husband to provide for me financially. I am fully capable of doing that for myself.

But what I do need from him, he doth provide.

He provides hands that are gentle and strong. 
He provides feet that lead the way. 
He provides arms that carry my burdens. 
He provides eyes that are only for me. 
He provides words that are encouraging and uplifting. 
He provides an example that I hope my son will follow. 
He provides wide open spaces big enough for me to dream Texas-sized dreams.

FYI- Size DOES matter, and THIS is the measure of a man:

Not how high up he is on the corporate ladder. Not how thick his wallet is. Not how many chicks he can pull. The measure of a man is how he gives himself up for his family. The measure of a man is not being intimidated by an educated, independent woman. The measure of a man is his ability to inspire a strong southern girl like me and a house full of crazy kids to follow his lead.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Awakening

They often say you won't realize you're going through a midlife crisis until you're already in the midst of one. That you won't be able to recognize the signs and symptoms happening in your own life until someone looks at you and says:

"You're having a midlife crisis."

This happened to me recently (in not so many words) when my older sister subtly sent me a quote about the changes that come with midlife.

My first thought?

Surely, I'm too young for this. I'm only 37, for heaven's sake. And let's be honest. When you hear the words midlife crisis, you probably think of a balding, overweight man with a gold chain and way too much chest hair protruding from his unbuttoned shirt. He's driving a little red sports car with a girl half his age in the passenger seat. At least, that's the image conjured up in my mind. But when I read the words from my big sister, everything I have been feeling lately suddenly started to make sense.

We had just spent a weekend at the beach together at our family reunion after not seeing one another for years. We sat in our folding chairs with our feet in the sand and talked for hours under the shade of our umbrellas, catching up on each other's lives and sharing secrets that are reserved only for sisters.

I spoke of feeling restless. Out of sorts. Like a stranger in my own skin.

I couldn't really put my finger on what I was feeling, but I knew that something was happening to me. I could feel the winds of change. In all of her big-sisterly wisdom, she texted me this gentle nudge from Dr. BrenĂ© Brown's Wholehearted:

Midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear: 'It's time. All of this pretending and performing- these coping mechanisms that you've developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt- has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and lovable, but you're still searching and you're more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can't live the rest of your life worried what other people think. The time has come to let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace who you are.'

These words resonated deep in my soul.

I thought, "Yes. Of course. This must be what is happening." But the thing about having a mid-life crisis is that it really doesn't feel like a crisis at all. It feels more like a rebirth. A revival.  A renaissance of sorts. It feels like an awakening. Or, as Brown calls it, an unraveling. It's an unraveling of your stringent expectations of yourself as a wife. As a mother. As a woman. And as a human being.

It's as if, after all those years you spent offering yourself up as a living sacrifice to everyone else who needs you, a guttural voice from deep within finally cries out:


A survival instinct kicks in and you suddenly come up gasping for air. You realize that you have given up so much of who you are that you're in danger of completely losing yourself.

For good.

You must remember who you really are. Who you were. Back before you began giving bits and pieces of yourself away. You must determine who you are now. When you allow the safety of the words wife and mother to fall away. Because you are not just someone's wife. You are not just someone's mother.

There is so much more to you than this.

The midlife is a time of reclaiming yourself. Of staking claim. Of laying hold of all the possibilities for your life. No holds barred.

I hereby declare the midlife crisis to be a perfectly normal transition.

It's a rite of passage. Not something to avoid or be ashamed about. It's actually something you should look forward to and embrace. Because after years of emptying yourself, it's now time to invest in YOU again. It's time for you to focus on personal growth and healing. 

It's time to let the winds of change take you where they will.

Are you ready?