The Ugly Spring

Minnesota, March, and 70 degree weather are not usually found in the same sentence.  Tomorrow the forecast is predicted at 78.  Today the ugly spring crushed me with it’s full power.  It felt great.

I lost spring last year to grief.  I don’t recall one memory of the overwhelming joy or hope that spring usually holds.  I think this lack of last year’s season is what made today so intense.  It was this intensity which brought to my attention the ugliness in spring.  Spring, in the very beginning moments, isn’t beautiful through sight.  Dog messes hidden by snow are now beginning to beg attention.  Trees still completely bare, without the frost of winter to give them sparkle.  Lawns are brown and matted down.  Yards are littered.  Roads are covered with sand and salt.  Today didn’t look beautiful … today felt beautiful.

The beauty of Spring is the power it holds in our experience of it, and it is not all found through the lens of our vision.  I praise a God who can make ugly and create one of the most treasured experiences of living on Earth.  The cycle of new life.  Now that is a reason to be thankful.

The beauty is in the smell of spring.  It’s in the hope it congers up inside us.  It’s the sounds of kids playing in their driveways.  The chatter of the neighbors who haven’t seen one another in months.  The birds returning to their nests.  It is the wind and the sun beckoning us with their warmth and playfulness.  It’s all of these things that call to us; they tell us that we have survived.  Survived another cycle of death and rebirth.  We have done it and summer is going to return.

Beauty isn’t just about what we see, it is about what we experience.  God doesn’t only give us hope in the expected, but in the unexpected.  Spring is proof that childlike joy still exists in every heart.  Beauty, hope, and joy … all found at the beginning of the ugly spring.

The More We Love, The More God Exists

“The more we love, the more God exists” Peter Rollins

For those who may be uncomfortable with the above quote, I apologize.  Not because it makes you uncomfortable, but rather that it does so at all.  Understanding the depths of what it means to love each other here on this Earth, and how much that love will impact the will of God, takes courage.  Over the last year of my life I have had a chance to experience what Pete meant by this quote and I’m overjoyed to share this with all of you.

Last Saturday my boyfriend, Brad, proposed to me.  I said yes.  I am so very blessed.  God is so very good.

And so, it is worth looking at why I attribute goodness to God.  It is not because over the last year He has appeared to me – cash in hand – when financial relief was needed, or because He sent an angel to hold me close when I was certain death was my only option in the face of Matt’s own.  Rather, God aroused the Spirit within each of you.    In the people at my church, at my work … my family and friends … and, at times, even in strangers.  He even aroused the Spirit within those in my life who wouldn’t attribute their acts of love to Christ.

God aroused the Spirit in Brad.  Brad has listened, been patient, been faithful, and been a true Christ follower in his venture to follow his heart and capture mine.  There were moments when we first started dating, and my own wounds were still so fresh, that just his presence brought me the kind of comfort I’ve only ever felt in the presence of Jesus.  He was walking as Christ was calling him to.

There have been moments in my life where God has physically shown up, relieved me, held me, and comforted me.  If the people given to me in my life over the last year, including Brad, had been absent I don’t doubt the power of God to provide the same blessings we have received.  I am, however, fully convinced that the Spirit that dwells within each of us is a vital lifeline to those around us.  Do not shy away from the prompting to love one another, even in the most difficult of circumstances, because we simply cannot know our part in God’s will for others.

I am so excited to marry Brad.  I am so excited to continue to heal and grow as a family, with him by our side.  And I am continually and forever grateful for those of you who have reached out, in love, to my family and me.  We love you.

Gummy Worms and Serving Each Other

I had some moments collide this week, in a way only the Spirit can direct them to, and I’m feeling called to share.  About a week before the anniversary of Matt’s death, some friends from church asked what they could do to help ease this time for me.  I initially declined the offer to be part of a meal train since I felt it was too much of a burden on those delivering meals in light of my situation.  After some prompting I agreed, but I still felt some guilt over the service.

So last week a wonderful woman, I feel honored to call a friend, brought over tacos.  Since it takes the three of us a good amount of time to eat all the food brought over; we had our last round of Mexican last night.  As I was bringing out all the containers of toppings thinking of what a blessing the meal was upon my week. I noticed the container that was holding the chopped tomatoes.  It was a container that once carried gummy worms from a local grocery store.  I thought for a moment and then become just a bit teary.

It was about six months ago that I was feeling completely swamped down with life in the midst of grief, when I was asked by a friend to be part of a meal train for a couple at church.  At the time the couple was still in the beginning stages of grief and hadn’t shared their story with others yet, so they requested to not have their name shared.  They simply requested we bring them sweets.

There I was that day at the grocery store.  I was running late to pick up Evie and feeling rushed.  The store was filled with people and the lines were long.  I picked up a basket, instead of choosing a cart, and my arm was loaded down and becoming sore.  I was on the phone, although I can not remember with who, I do remember the conversation being stressful.  All at once I felt annoyed by serving someone I didn’t know, at a time in life that wasn’t easy on me, in the midst of a troublesome day.  I pulled myself together that day; I found my heart for serving, and followed through.  I was glad I did.  I was even more grateful when I later learned who I was serving and why.

So here I was, feeling grateful and guilty, because of those who had made the decision to take time out of their busy lives to serve my family when I caught a glimpse at the Spirit’s work.  In a fleeting moment of clarity I saw into the Spirit-lead, circle-of-favor we get to take part of on this Earth.  I had felt led by the Spirit to serve this couple friend, and despite myself, I did so.  And here I was witnessing the very source of where my service for them began, their service for me was handed back.

It was a small reminder of the huge impact the Spirit can have in our lives if we so allow Him to.  I am so grateful to be part of a community that respects and honors that impact the best we know how.  My encouragement for you is to follow the promptings of your heart.  Do not doubt.  Do not quit when your own shortcomings try to hold you back from that calling.  And when offered service?  Take it with grace and humility.

Keep Calm And Parade On

I had the opportunity of experiencing my first New Orlean’s Mardi Gras this last week.  I went to visit my brother, his wife, and their beautiful new baby girl.  Prior to the actual parades we went shopping and found a multitude of gear that ‘needed’ to be purchased for the occasion.  During our trip around town we spotted a shirt with the slogan, “Keep Calm and Parade On”.  And it was at that very moment the slogan for our upcoming holiday was decided.

Now, this wasn’t just my first Mardi Gras, this was also my first glimpse into what makes up this Southern holiday.  Up until this week I had no idea what was all included in the cities age old traditions behind these parades, which make up the two weeks prior to Mardi Gras Tuesday.  All I ever knew of Mardi Gras was the typical depiction of Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday.  I was surprised to find out this holiday is actually a family centered party.  There were drinks, of course, but what is a parade without drinks?  The people lining the streets waiting to watch the marching bands and floats pass by were older NOLA folk watching these parades for the umpteenth time, families with children on ladders poised and ready to catch arm loads of beads, and young couples spending the day people watching and enjoying the atmosphere.

So it was at my first parade I noticed a similarity between people from NOLA and people from Minnesota – it was one of the few similarities in tradition and culture I saw, so it sparked my interest almost immediately.  So here we were, Evelyn and I, lined up along a city street with mothers and children on both sides of me.  I was sporting my slogan slashed t-shirt, as I caught a glimpse of the first float heading our way.  From blocks away you can see the ‘throws’ (as they are called) being tossed way into the air, landing in the hands of the screaming children in the street below.  Beads of all sorts of colors, stuffed animals, toys, and more.

As the float inched closer I, along with every mother around me, began to tense just a little.  Our children standing down at our feet are wearing huge smiles and bouncing around from the sugar high, induced by all the traditional King Cake they had been eating all week.  The float now starts to pass in front of us and as the children stretch, reach, and scream the mothers all stiffen in defense mode.

Each mother protecting their children’s prized possessions from other children and mothers.  Each mother widening their stance, just slightly, with each passing second as to give their child a better chance to catch the best throw.  Each mother glancing quickly over the ground around them so as to not miss their chance at grabbing just one more trinket for their child.  I could have just as well been at the Halloween Parade in my hometown of Anoka, MN – reaching around on the pavement for just one more piece of Dubble Bubble; scrambling, as if it was Evelyn’s last chance in the world to taste that sweet bubble gum.

The more parades I went to the more our slogan started to strike me as fitting, not just for Mardi Gras, but for everyday life.  As a mother, I want so deeply for my children to have so many different things and I’m striving to help them achieve these things, far too often simultaneously.  I want them to be safe, so I widen my stance everywhere we go, in hopes that I won’t need to see them get hurt.  I want them to have the best there is to offer in this world, so I harden – ever so slightly – in order to ensure they end up with the best.  I want them to have joy, so I do what I need to do to make sure they are happy, even if it is at my own expense.  I praise them when they get a ‘throw’, I give them mine when they don’t, and when there is no catch I reassure them that the necklaces the boy standing in front of us caught were actually meant for them and we’ll get more the next time around.

I don’t think any of this is wrong … well, as women we could certainly take a step back and allow our children to handle parade ‘throw’ gathering to themselves.  What I mean is I don’t think it is wrong to do everything in our power to help our children achieve their worth.  To make sure that they have the best chance, the best opportunity, and the best possible outcome …. either when watching a parade or in other – more important – life events.  What I liked though, was the slogan.

Keep Calm and Parade On

Most likely, the children will forget within seconds what was caught and what was missed on that float.  Within days, possibly even hours, the luster of the cheaply made toys will dull and they will move on to the next thing.  It is the mother’s heart that remains tied so tightly to the emotion invoked by the event.  In part, it has to do with motherly instincts, and there is no better God-given gift in the world.  We do what we need to do for our children … and without that motherly love I imagine the Earth would look like a far emptier place.  We should, however, remember our own hearts.  I should try to remember that I have a heart of a mother, but I am also very much a daughter of God, as well.

We don’t need to stop listening or acting on our motherly instincts to protect and work hard for our children, but I think we could take some advice from the shirt.  I know my anxieties tip on the heavier end of the scale, but I imagine I would be a much better mother – a much better Christian – if I was able to put these words into action on a daily basis.  I find that I act in ways I wouldn’t in order to protect my child, but we are called to remain humble.  We are called to give it to God in prayer.  We are called to be slow to speak and slow to anger.

This slogan works for me when I think of times I am alone with my children teaching them how to grow in grace or how to live life on this Earth.  This slogan works for when I think of attending Kindergarten registration or planning the perfect birthday party.  This slogan works when I am having a playdate and my child is the one who refuses to share.

So just maybe … the next time I’m faced with anxieties of parenthood, or those inevitable moments when innocence collides with real life, or when taking on the exhausting task of daily discipline … I can remember to remain in Christ’s peace.   I can remind myself to move forward from that moment and onto the next.  I can assure myself the importance of the simple words …. Keep Calm and Parade On.

Saying Goodbye To The Cube Farm

So I was laid off from my corporate job today- no apologies are necessary.

These last twelve months have been a roller coaster of changes and adjustments.  The people I work(ed) with, in my immediate department, poured out compassion and grace to me every chance they got.  And still, I knew deep within me, very soon after Matt’s death, that sitting in that cubicle was not where I was suppose to be anymore.  With the mourning, the moving, and the months of ongoing adjustments I made the decision to hold to that job.  I knew that the financial stability was smart.  I knew my ability to discern whether or not another ‘life changing event’ should be placed on our home simply wasn’t there.  Even with all that though, it was a day by day effort.  Waking up and getting to a job that had lost all meaning … working for corporate America … and at what cost?  The nagging feeling that I was leaving my children behind in order to do so.

It was about a month ago, maybe two, that my heart started truly aching.  The desire to step out in faith, to follow God’s calling on my life, and do the thing that most people would view as ‘irresponsible’ or financially risky had reached a point that I felt I was about to crawl right out of my skin.  Depression, of a different source this time, was sinking deep down within me.  I felt I was letting down my children by needing to hold a 9-5.  I felt I was letting down my co-workers, both by the change in my work habits, and my loss of passion.  I felt trapped.

Before Christmas the company I work(ed) for had executive level issues, and it was rumored there may be layoffs.  With much angst over how it could possibly sound to a manager, I requested that if layoffs were to take place that I would be the one to go.  It had been weeks since then and there had been no sign or word that it was ever going to happen.  More recently, in the last two weeks, I began to give up hope on that being the tool in which God would use to release me from my old career path.  I became frustrated with God … what was worse was I tried to take control – to handle it without surrender.  I doubted His ability, or possibly more accurately speaking, His willingness to answer my prayers.

Last night was the ugliest night I’ve experienced in a while.  I paced for hours, I wrote feverishly (in private journals never to be seen by the pages of a blog), I prayed, I begged, and I cried.  I asked God to show me, tell me, make it known what was the correct path.  I confessed to Him.  I was honest about my pride, my need to control, my doubt.  I went to sleep.  I woke up.  I went to work.  But when I left?  I went home with confidence and freedom, the kind only Christ can give.

He is so good.  We say that, don’t we … God is good.  It’s almost as if no word ever could even come close to encapsulating Him, so we just nod in knowing and say, ‘He is good.”  But it’s truth to the core … He has been good to me, so good to me.  Even in my doubt, anger, and unfaithfulness He loves me.

I got home and the song How He Loves came on.  Those first words almost knocked me to the ground …

He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me

Where I had felt alone and angry just hours before I could almost now see his love surrounding me in all my weakness.  Jealous to have my faithfulness back – holy and good He bent me like a branch in the wind of his mercy, goodness, and love.