Death on the Trail

I tried a new trail today, trying to avoid the few steep hills I usually run. My knee has been a little achy lately. I snapped a picture, posted it on Instagram with the caption, “give me a trail over a treadmill any day.” Exhilarated once again in nature. The conversation in my head alternating between navigation details, “I can’t step there too icy, oh i need to walk here, oh man thank goodness for these branches i can hold on to, oh wow my lungs feel great” and soul stirrings, “what am i afraid of God, what really is going on behind that argument, does this fear connect with my childhood, I can’t believe at one point in my life I thought fear wasn’t an issue for me.”

At my last session, my counselor said, “I think there is fear there.” I allowed him to look at a picture and some words in my journal. I also had been describing the last week of my life, including how our dog was in and out of the hospital before we made the agonizing decision to put him to sleep. The same day we said goodbye to Louie we found out my Grandmom Conner passed away at the age of 104. Even though we are sad, she was ready. I think I will write a post dedicated solely to her soon. On top of that it had been a week of extra responsibility on the work front for my husband which created the perfect stress storm for a massive argument between us.

When my counselor said fear I instinctively knew he was right. But why and of what exactly I wasn’t sure. I have decided I want to follow this trail of fear in my life and see what lies at the end. Could it be fear of rejection? Yeah that’s probably at work some. Fear of failure? Yes it rattles around. And I know there are other fears at work in my heart and mind sometimes.

But today on the trail, God made it clear. Fear of death.

Right after I took the Instagram picture I came to a fork in the trail. I chose to go left onto a new trail deeper into the woods in my growing running strength. Not knowing exactly my way out I continued. I was awestruck, the beauty. I thought, it feels like Narnia, thick pine trees, beautiful snow, sun and shadows. I almost grabbed another picture but I didn’t want to stop.

Then I saw it, death. Right on the ground, in the middle of the path were bones, real bones, not a whole skeleton, but bones of an animal, left by a predator. I stopped dead in my tracks. Fear gripped me. Are there ferocious animals waiting to attack me? Think Beauty and the Beast, when the wolves attack Belle in the woods. I mean I know, probably not, right? But just last week, I saw two coyotes race by me close, scaring the living bejebbers out of me.

After I caught my breath, took my earbuds out and scanned the woods with the eyes of a detective I decided to keep going. The trail calling me forward. Fear did not stop me today on the trail. I continued to run. I continued to move. But how many times in the past have I stopped in fear, hesitated in fear, or spun in fear and haven’t recognized it?

I prayed earlier this week:

Layers upon layers 

of hurt

of anger

of lies

of unbelief

Shatter it Lord

All of it.

Get to the bottom

So fear of death it is, God. He’s answering. Do I know exactly what this means? No. Are we talking physical death? No. Not that I never fear physical death. But this is not what is gripping me, this is not what is holding me back. Not today. Today the question is: what am I afraid to lose forever? When you lose someone or something dear to you, it marks you. You are changed. Recently, I lost my Grandmom and my dog. A long time ago I lost something else, it changed me, I am marked forever. But this fear will not hold me forever.

“Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand                 those who take refuge in you from their foes.”            Psalm 17:7

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.”                                                                     Psalm 18:16-17

 

Icy Hills

Sometimes in life you find yourself trying to run up and down icy hills.

Snow has come to stay here in Chicagoland. It is so cold and grey here in the winter that soon after the first or second snow the grass disappears until spring. Running in fresh snow is one of my favorite things to do I realize now. I have lived in places with 4 seasons all my life. Winter has always been a part of my year, my rhythm.  I will never forget one cold, snowy night in Northeast Ohio I happily cleared all the snow off my friend’s car during a winter storm. She looked at me in complete disbelief when I told her I love clearing snow off cars. There are some of us crazies who enjoy the cold and snow. Although I do have my limits. I will not talk about the last two winters here with the crazy negative 40 wind chill, I will keep that blocked from my memory. But I do have wonderful childhood memories of wandering around in the woods behind my house staring at the sparkle of snow covered trees against the backdrop of a bright blue sky. I could stay there for hours.

But today I found myself running on compacted, bumpy, icy snow. This is another thing altogether. This terrain forces you to look down at every step, choosing carefully so as not to twist an ankle or slip and fall. When going up or down it was so slick I was forced to walk at times and barely walk at that. I couldn’t help but consider the comparison to my life. I was feeling good enough to run fast, ok maybe not that fast, but fast for me ok. But the terrain limited my speed.

And right now because of the terrain of my life and heart I must slow down. At least as much as someone with six kids can! I must learn to navigate what I can not change. I must have God show me what is in my realm of choice and what is not. The anger I am contending with must be clarified. What is the good kind? What is the prison kind? Evil that will take me down. I am ready. I am tired of fighting the wrong fight. God assured me this slowing on the trail, this path to rest and recovery is ok. Even though I want to run as fast as I can I must slow down. He meets me in the slowing. I sensed a promise of strength coming. For now I slow and wait and I take in the sparkle of the snow and the blue of the sky I can see from here.

“I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”        Psalm 118:13-14

Necessary or Good?

It’s January 1, the first day of a new year.  Most of us like this new, clean slate to begin again, to start fresh. Some people I know LOVE getting a new calendar. They love filling in all those spaces with their plan for the year or at least the next few months. Some people love goals and priorities. They thrive on making a plan and sticking to it.

For others of us, even though we like fresh starts, it is different. We see it like a blank canvas, a new space for a beautiful piece of art. But we know this can not be planned out to a T. We look forward to clean, open spaces but if it is too planned, too thought of in advance, we feel like we will wilt under the plan.

Whether we thrive on very detailed goals and plans or we prefer choices and flexible plans I believe we have a common desire. Goodness. We look into 2016 and we would love for it to be good.

Before I started walking this path of meeting with a counselor, examining the present state of my wellness and my marriage and unearthing anything from the past, I made a commitment to God and me. I do not want to remember and dissect the past if it is not necessary, essential. I actually cried out to God about it, “Do not let me do this if it is not absolutely necessary.” At the time it seemed to me it was to stay in the path of following him. Now I think it may have been more because of fear of what I may find down this path.

So at the end of my first solo appointment with the counselor Dave and I have been seeing I said to him, “Is this necessary?” What I meant was, is it necessary to continue delving into the past events of my life. Do we have to do this? Do I have to do this? Is this absolutely essential?

He responded with, what was probably the most profound part of our time for me, “I wouldn’t use the word necessary, I would use the word good.” He told me he recently heard teaching on the Hebrew word for “good” and how this word includes the concepts of potential and flourishing. When God created us he called us good. When God created me he called me good. He went on to say that evil is basically all that is opposed to the good God has in mind. It was as though these words hung in the air and I gazed at their hope and beauty. Yes, this is what I want. Yes, if this is our grid it will be worth it.

I wonder could this be a perspective shift as we look ahead to 2016? As we make decisions about our calendar, instead of asking, is this necessary? Whether we are planners or artists maybe we could ask, is this good? Here’s to a good year, come what may.

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”    Genesis 1:31

The Horizon

16 degrees. Feels like 2 degrees. How badly do I want to run? How badly do I want perspective? How badly do I want to hear from God? Plus, I will warm up once I get going I remind myself. I start to run. I feel invigorated, like I haven’t been in a long time. Sure, the brisk air, the brilliant sunshine, and the beautiful trees breath life into my lungs and my soul as I take those steps. But it is more than those things. I feel invigorated because God has provided something, someone to help me move into the future. I like this, invigoration.

Truth be told, I haven’t been running much lately. Too tired. Too overwhelmed. Too overscheduled. Too little motivated. But today I am compelled to run, longing for God to meet me in that sacred place. I hope he will give me more perspective into what I currently face. He did just the other day. My friend, Tricia Lott Williford, author, blogger, speaker, shared how Starbucks became a safe place for her to write following a devastating loss. It was one of the places God met her in the middle of everything unfamiliar. As I ran the trails of VA, a local park, I thought, this is my Starbucks. Compelled to have God meet me in places of old pain.

I believe God is directing me to look back at the past, not to dwell or get bogged down but to heal more deeply, to be equipped to do what he has called me to do. This revelation was confirmed through a new relationship Dave and I have. For the past few months Dave and I have been meeting with a counselor. We realized recently our marriage relationship, due to the strain of the last five years, moving to a new state, Dave starting a new job, and adding twin boys, bumping us to be a family of 8 with about a thousand moving parts, was in need of some focus and care. Our counselor has given us perspective for reframing and tools for creating the intimacy and connection we desire. It might not sound sexy but it is amazing how the seemingly simple and sometimes obvious can spark beautifully deep connection.

From this safe place, I find myself ready to step foot into the dense forest of a past event. I do not know what to expect in this forest. But I am energized and confident as I look to the horizon. The addition of a trusted counselor is the very thing I needed to keep moving into the future of my life, not turning cold and distant, but staying warm as I take the next step. Even though the details and the path is unknown I am invigorated.

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” Habakkuk 3:19

They are not my friends

It has been a couple of months since I served behind the scenes at a Christian conference. This conference featured prominent teachers, leaders, authors, and bloggers from circles I follow. I am still processing why I left there slightly disillusioned.

Today I have come to one conclusion. The women who came into the room to eat that day were not my friends. The women whose writing and teaching and art impacted my life, these women did not do anything wrong. I have no back stage stories of obnoxiousness or pride.

I was part of the hospitality team in charge of receiving food deliveries and getting it to the right rooms and making it available to all the people appearing on stage at the conference. At one point, people poured into the room, chatting with each other, grabbing food before they were off to their next responsibility at the conference.

I knew who a handful of these women were. I had either read or heard personal details of their lives in their books or on social media. I felt I knew them. They shared a part of themselves with me and thousands of others. Their stories have strengthened and inspired me when I was in bad shape. Honest words of wisdom and experience have pierced me and challenged me.

Here is the problem though. When I looked at their faces I knew their names. When I looked at their faces I knew part of their stories. In some way I was connected to them. But when they looked at my face, wait, actually they didn’t look at my face. If they would have looked at my face, they wouldn’t have known my name. They wouldn’t have known any details of my story, my life, my struggles. They were not connected to me like I was to them. They had no idea I knew anything about them at all.

I left the room while they ate and talked. I felt like I was invading their privacy, watching them eat, knowing their names but on the outside looking in. It was a strange sensation, feeling disappointed when no one did anything wrong.

Weeks later it hit me, they are not my friends. They have been my teachers. They have been examples to follow. They have been truth-tellers in my life. But they are not my friends. It is just not possible. And it is ok. But it is quite a thing to become attached to people through books, public speaking, and blogging. I do not have all the answers to this phenomenon. But, for those of us who find ourselves in it, I think we need to be aware of this false intimacy.

I decided to “unfollow” and “unfriend” them for a while to provide some separation and see what surfaces. Again, this is not about anything they did wrong. This is my issue and I am working through it. I decided to share it because I think I might not be the only one.

No Small Thing

I laid down in my hotel room bed with two of my sister friends asleep in the next bed over. I was smiling ear to ear. I thought, “I am alive. This is what my soul needed.”

I couldn’t fall asleep. I was too excited. I was coming off a couple of hard weeks. Post vacation adjustments included getting the house back in order, dealing with little ones with post grandparent syndrome and getting used to the mundaneness of my life again while my husband traveled. Just a day earlier I was wiped. And now my heart soared. I felt like I could conquer the world. Even though I don’t like being so far from the city in the suburbs where I have lived the last 5 years belief began flooding my heart and mind. God placed me there for a reason. I am supposed to mobilize women. To do exactly what I don’t know.

I lay there in bed on fire, burning inside with the desire to change the world, with the desire to actually accomplish what God has me on this earth to do before I die.

I thought why? What is it about the last 8 hours has done this to me? What has just transpired among us? Why do I need them in my life? What have they given me?

And there it was again, the word expectation. They do not expect a thing from me. I can be completely who I am, exactly as I am, all of me in their presence. No expectations. At. All.

This does not come easily, cheaply, or quickly. There have been hours upon hours already invested. There have been daily happenings experienced. There has been real, gritty, sometimes heart wrenching issues shared over coffee cups, breakfast plates, in the midst of kids screaming and playing. There has been scripture delved into and picked apart. There have been questions asked. There has been room for silence. Tears have been shed. Laughs have been cackled.

This friendship thing. There is just no other way about it. It is forged. Over lots of time. It is no small thing to have a real friend. In the process of becoming friends sometimes it feels like it will never get there. But it will. And it is so worth it.

Back to bed now, knowing and known, accepted with no expectations. I am in awe. This is certainly a glimpse of glory.