In Need of a Little Hope

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“Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” ~Emily Dickinson

In the chorus of songbirds that swoop through the meadow behind our home, one bird stands out from the rest. He perches at the top of the tallest tree, and he entertains us with song all day long. Every morning, we wake to his chirping as the sun rises. He sings through the hours of the day, then he lulls us to sleep with his song as the night curtain falls. He never fails to show up at the top of the spruce, day after day after day.

A few nights ago, while trying to sleep over my husband’s snoring, I heard faint birdsong outside my window at one a.m. I shook my man in an effort to dislodge his latest snort, and propped myself up on an elbow. I strained my ear towards the glass, and I heard the rise and fall of the same bird’s song.

Dickinson’s line ran through my head as I listened to the bird sing his wordless tune in the wee hours. I felt God whisper in my spirit that the notes spilling out into the thick summer night were meant for me. Hope is in short supply lately. I’ve stood by and watched with a sinking heart as others succeed in their endeavors, while I continue to fail and fail and fail. You can bet if I have desired or dreamt or created something, it is unceremoniously crushed. If I have knocked on a door, another less appealing door in the opposite direction opens in response.

Do you find yourself here too? Are you holding onto hope by a single note, straining to hear the thread of a tune? I could offer you platitudes and soft answers, but the truth is, waiting and praying and dreaming while holding onto hope hurts. It feels like grasping at air, a gathering of notes that float away as soon as they catch a hint of wind.

The noise of our failures get in the way of our soul’s ability to hear the tune. But it’s still there, perched like a bird high on a branch. Wordless, distant, beautiful. I remember the words of the prophet Habakkuk, and I know all things have an appointed time. This time is meant for waiting, for listening, and for allowing hope to rise like a song from the center of my chest.

“For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end–it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” ~Habakkuk 2:3

Fractured, Yet Fun: A Race Re-Cap

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If you had seen the enormous wet slide ending in a pool of filthy water at the end of the race, you might have cringed too. You might have clenched your teeth together and wondered why you let your husband talk you into such a foolhardy idea. You might have realized it was too late to change your mind and secretly cursed the yahoos who come up with these obstacle/race courses, who think “rugged” or “maniac” is a title you aspire to achieve.

I have achieved neither. Oh, I ran the race and I finished every one of the obstacles, but crawling through soupy mulch and carrying a 25 lb bag sack of grain for a few feet hardly bestows me with the title of rugged. Stupid, maybe. Fun, possibly. But not rugged.

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It was all fun and games until a man twice my width and size wearing a shirt that said “I love boobies” passed me on the course. I mean, really. That’s enough to take your ego down a notch.

Three-quarters of the way through the race, just when I started to feel like it wasn’t such a big deal after all, we reached the rings suspended over a small pool of dirty water. Lying beneath them a woman writhed in pain, while two volunteers held her down to immobilize her body. A shard of white bone protruded from her shin, and every part of me seized up at the sight of it. The rest of the race was a blur after that, I couldn’t erase the image of her face contorted in pain, flesh broken, bone revealed.

Obstacles have a way of revealing what we’re made of, don’t they? One minute we’re having fun, crossing through a few rough patches, full steam ahead through muck and mess, until we slip up on something so simple, so innocuous, we can’t imagine how it took us down with such ease.

It made me hyper-aware of how little control we have over the course of our lives. How easily situations slip us up and trick us into believing we are more than we really are.

The final obstacle required us to run up a huge curved wall and attempt to leap up and heave ourselves over the top. Teammates waited at the top, hands extended, ready to pull one another up the final few feet. I ran as fast as I could, gaining momentum, and at the last second I raised my hands for help. My husband, a friend, and a total stranger reached out, grabbed me, and hauled me over.

When I begin to think I’m more than I really am, I hope I remember Mr. I love boobies. I hope I remember the fractures, the outstretched hands, the help and hauling over. I hope I remember that even in my imperfections, even in my need, it’s ok to have a little fun.

Losing a Friend and Finding Her Again

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We were inseparable from the beginning. We slept at each other’s houses and traded our deepest, darkest, thirteen-year-old secrets. We baked cookies and hid from her brothers and whispered late into the night when the house fell asleep. From the attic we watched movies I wasn’t allowed to watch at home. Her mom cooked me countless dinners, and her house unlocked a sense of freedom in me that needed turning. She taught me real friendship is having the courage to show up, but I’m not sure I ever really learned the lesson.

We remained best friends for most of our childhood, and it crushed me when her family left the country to become missionaries during our freshman year of high school. My living, breathing best friend became a flat scrawl of cursive on a piece of notebook paper. We grew apart as distant relationships often do, but I hold most of the blame. I stopped writing, my gaze focused solely on my own high school survival, and I stopped wondering if she would ever move back.

We’re Facebook friends now. The kind who gather news of each others lives through the occasional update. From a distance, I watched her circle the globe and serve Jesus and raise her daughter to speak fluent Spanish. I don’t know her anymore, not really. I don’t take out the memories and hold them to the light, I don’t wear them out with the handling, or polish them until they shine. They sit in cobwebs in the deepest recesses of my mind.

….

She sent me a message recently. Honest. Vulnerable. Can we have the courage to show up in each other’s lives somehow, across the decades and across state lines? I sat on her message for 24 hours–fear kept me from responding. Like a potter with clay, the intervening years took the raw material of thirteen-year old girls and shaped us into forty-year old women. Between us, we’ve lived in five different countries and married our high school sweethearts and had wildly different life experiences. I’m not sure she will like this re-shaped version of me. She liked who I used to be, but I don’t know if she will like who I am now.

I don’t know how this story will end, but I want to remain open to possibilities. The potter will continue to shape me into a new creation, day by day, decision by decision. Perhaps having the courage to show up is all it takes to start, and time will take care of the rest.

Friendship: What I Learned by Racing Side by Side

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My husband wrangled me, our teenage daughter, and our three best friends to participate in some sort of mud-filled obstacle course this upcoming weekend. You know how I love to spend the Saturday after the first full week of summer? Running a 5K through barbed wire and fire pits. Only not. It’s a bit redundant, n’est ce pas?

It just so happens that one of our running buddies this weekend, also ran alongside me for my first marathon. I’ve thought a lot about my marathon experience over the years. The pain and triumph of that day wrote its way permanently into my muscle memory, but the memory of my friend pounding the pavement next to me, refusing to let me quit, burns like a lamp–illuminating every step from start to finish.

When I rewind the tape, I don’t see the mile markers as they pass, I see the glow of my friend running beside me. He taught me what it means to support and lift up a friend when that friend feels like the road ahead is too hard to travel, when the end disappears from sight, and the obstacles to reach it feel so overwhelming, it just might kill body or spirit.

We all have a race to run, whether it be in our marriage, parenting, career, or our own spiritual development. I feel so blessed to have friends who train hard and keep their promises and offer me all the support I need to run my own race well. I want to emulate the kind of friendship that loves others well, that sets them up to run their race with confidence. Here’s what I learned along the way:

Run in front, alongside, and behind

My friend promised not to leave me. He stayed within sight for every high point and the inevitable lows when I felt certain I couldn’t go on. I still see the flash of white from his race shirt out of the corner of my eye when he edged forward to make way for us through a sea of runners, or dropped behind to fill our cups with water. I knew when we crested the toughest hill, he would be running right alongside of me, pushing hard, working through the pain.

I want to be the kind of friend who will run alongside you even when it’s painful, even when it costs me something, even when the experience hurts.

Offer practical help

Before we started, he double checked my gear and talked through what to expect on the course ahead. He stopped at every water break and made sure I had a cup of water for hydration. He made sure I saw the spectators handing out the free oranges and bananas. I returned the favor by hoarding my fuel gels, while my friend nearly passed out from a lack of food. Those bananas were a lifesaver. Literally.

Sometimes being a good friend, actually means offering one another a cup of cold water or a helping hand. I learned my lesson when I realized I might find myself having to explain to my friend’s wife why he never made it to the finish line. Food, water, expectations–let’s recognize where our people need help and offer it, even when we have needs too.

Tell them what they need and provide it

My friend told me when we should stop to use the port-o-potties. He made us take a break to stretch. He forced water on me even when I didn’t want it. He gave me advice for running the steepest hill, and he ran beside me the entire way, until we stood looking down from its great height.

We don’t always know what we need when facing a new or challenging situation. Sometimes, we’re just trying to survive, and a friend can see past our discomfort, helping us shift from a position of surviving to thriving. If you find yourself supporting a friend in their own life race, don’t simply tell them what they need, open up your hands and offer it.

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Do you have a friend running the race of life with you? How can you be that friend to someone else?

Stay tuned for photos from the race this weekend on instagram.

I wish: A Reflection on Stay at Home Motherhood

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It is 7am on the first morning of our summer break, and already I hear feet crossing the upstairs floorboards. I am “blessed” with children who like to both stay up late and rise early. I find sanity-saving quiet between the hours of 11pm and 6am. Unfortunately, this doesn’t jive with my natural biorhythms, if you know what I mean.I don’t think I can express how hard summer is for an introvert mama.

At 11pm last night, I read a few posts at new-to-me blogs about homemaking and housekeeping. Sometimes I like to see how the other half lives. The writers wrote about taking joy in keeping a home, about the pleasures of stay-at-home motherhood, and about finding fulfillment in our role as chief housekeeper. My gut-honest reaction was disbelief. Do women really feel like this? If they do, I literally do not know a single one of them. Maybe I’m hanging out in the wrong circles?

After my feelings of disbelief passed, and I hurdled my first judgmental instincts, I felt something a little like longing. Deep down, I think I want to be that wife. I want to be that mom. I want to be the one who finds the greatest satisfaction in keeping a home and throwing wildly creative birthday parties and baking homemade bread just because I can. (I can’t by the way. My husband finally took matters into his own hands and got up at 5am to bake bread for us a while back.)

There is something so precious about a woman who gives her all to her family. Why does my heart instinctually want to judge this as somehow a less-than approach to womanhood–a throwback to the 1950’s? Here’s the irony–I am this woman. I chose to stay home, but I have never found a deep sense of satisfaction in it. For fifteen years, my husband sacrificed and worked hard and made all the money–every last bit of it–so I could stay home with our children. I have what so many women dream of, and I haven’t always found joy in it. Rather than fully embracing this decision, I live in a constant state of tension. If “home-making” was a paying job, my boss would fire me. Immediately.

I wish I had dug deeper, past the hard places, past the silt and rock, straight down until I struck the gold. There is gold here. I wish I’d worked harder, enjoyed more, been more emotionally present. I wish I’d let myself sit on the sofa and read all the books while the kids played with blocks at my feet, rather than scrambling to scrub things while giving in to feelings of deep frustration. The years were good, but they could have been better. They were a satisfying meal, but they should have been a feast.

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Thanks so much for indulging my navel gazing. If you’re a mom–working or stay at home–how do you find joy in your current situation? Do you feel the tension too, or am I crazy? However you choose to wife and parent, I hope you find contentment and deep, abiding joy in your decision. Maybe you can teach me?