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Wound Up (and finding new ways to be…)

NOTE: I specifically asked my daughter if it was okay to write these words and share them. I generally do that for anything I post on social media that has her image or words. I have not done that much with my blog. But this felt like permission was needed. She graciously granted it, adding, “I mean, it’s fascinating, Mama–someone else might think so too!”

The Curly Girl was born with ankyloglossia (aka, “tied tongue”) which is essentially a congenital anomaly in which her tongue is quite literally tied to the floor of her mouth by a piece of tissue. It restricts range of motion, along with other issues, and in her case, the tie is severe, and that means she has never 1) stuck her tongue out at anyone, or 2) actually licked an ice cream cone (she nibbles). Such ties as hers often cause speech impediments, and a decade ago, when we were seeking advice about hers, the general counsel was “don’t worry about it unless it affects her speech.” If you know my girl at all, you know that her voice has not–in any way, shape or form–been impeded. And so her tongue has remained as it was at her birth.

Fast forward to the present and a couple things have changed–her tongue tie is now affecting potential orthodontic work, how she eats and digests food, even how she breathes and how her posture is held. I know–it sounds like it can’t possibly be, but over the last decade, research has grown leaps and bounds in this field, and it turns out, our tongues, and the way they function, are pretty darn important and have impact on our bodies and overall well-being. We’ve been in the care of three excellent professionals for the last year as we’ve tried to figure out best steps, and the short version of the story is that this Friday, Curly Girl is having a frenectomy–the fancy medical term for getting that extra tissue cut out (via laser) and cleaned out which will release her tongue. This will be followed by several months of what’s called myofunctional therapy–a form of PT, in essence, that will teach her how to use her tongue and all that it affects properly.

Two days ago, I was reading an email from the doctor who will perform the surgery about what to expect post-procedure. I expected her to mention soreness–I did not expect her to say that soreness will manifest itself in M’s ears and throat. I expected some fatigue–I did not expect her to say that for several days, M will probably sleep more soundly and need more rest as her body adjusts. I expected that things will be different–I did not expect these words: “Some patients feel a brief wave or release of emotion… after [tongue] release [especially in] folks who move from being very restricted to suddenly free.  It’s natural and important to allow her time and space to let that out should it occur…. Her body had a lot wound up in the old patterns and has to find new ways to be.”

Her body had a lot wound up in the old patterns and has to find new ways to be.

Y’all? I’ve never heard more sage words from a doctor. And also y’all? That ain’t just about ankyloglossia.

As you might imagine, I have some thoughts…

First, I’m thinking this: The soreness post-procedure will manifest in her ears and throat because that’s just how our bodies work–everything is connected, something that affects one thing, will affect others. These bones and muscles and organs we have–they all work together, and when one is injured, or out of whack, well…the others feel it too (…But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. –excerpt from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

We have completely forgotten what it means to be of one body. To be of one community. To be of one life, together, the things that happen to one of us affecting the rest of us. We are isolated, and sad, and alone–more so than we have ever been as a people–and the suffering of our neighbors goes unheard far too often because we’re so caught in our own lives, often even in our own suffering.

There are any number of examples I could pick from here, but because this particular example has completely shattered my heart, I’ll use it: When our children continue to gun one another down inside the walls of their schools, and we cannot listen long enough or well enough to each other to find a way to keep them safe, we have forgotten that we belong to each other. The image of a terrified grade schooler, being walked out of her school in Colorado because the high school next door has a shooter in it, should bring us to our knees, begging for forgiveness as a people, and willing to set aside any personal interest in the name of keeping our children safe. Full stop.

Second, I’m thinking this: We’ve all got “a lot wound up in the old patterns….” In our personal lives. In our workplaces. In our communities. In our country. In the world.

Somewhere along the way, M taught herself how to work with the body system she was handed. She has been comfortable in it because it is what she knows. It feels fine to her. But what we know now is that the system she was handed has not been in her best interest, even if she’s learned how to navigate it effectively. Even if it feels perfectly fine to her. And truthfully, if I had chosen not to run down the rabbit hole of research related to tied tongues, she would, in all probability, be fine. For the most part.

And there was a time in my life when “fine,” was OK–as good as it gets was, well, as good as gets, you know? But no more. My girl deserves better.

And so do YOU. So do WE.

I’m going to spell this metaphor out for you, just in case you’re wondering why I’m still harping on my kid’s oral surgery…

  • We deserve better than politicians who are primarily interested in their own election campaigns and bank accounts (and this is a widespread, bipartisan problem, so don’t point fingers, y’all, unless you want them pointing back at you).
  • We deserve better than underfunded public schools.
  • We deserve better than tax liability designed to make those of great wealth even wealthier.
  • We deserve better than a contrived overarching narrative that divides us along economic, social, ethnic, religious and political party lines.
  • And dear, sweet, baby Jesus (and I say that in full reverence, y’all) our children deserve better than all this and more. They deserve safe shelter and excellent education and nutritious food and warm clothing and a chance..a freaking CHANCE…at not just survival, but pure thriving into the gorgeous, incredible, creative children of God they were born to be.

Our system, our body together, is broken. At least in part. And the broken parts make it harder for the functioning parts to do their job. And even if we are still comfortable in it, still trying to find our place in it, still trying to navigate it so that we can make do, because, after all, it is what we know…it is not functioning properly. And our refusal to reach down deep into the depths of our souls and find new ways of being, even if with painful steps and harsh breath…it is making us less than we were created to be. As individuals and as communities.

We have a lot wound up in who we have been. And finding a new way of being, a way that fosters community and gives everyone a fair shake and that also still values freedom and individual expression and truly welcomes diverse cultures…it seems impossible. I know. Believe me. I. Know. Every day I fight back hopelessness with my dogged belief that somehow God is at work in the madness I see around us every day, and hope for the strength to take my place in that God-work when and where I am able.

It’s hard to find a new way to be. Anyone who has gone through significant life transition (voluntarily or involuntarily) knows this. We’re stubborn and fickle, both, us humans, and sometimes we give ourselves far too much credit and take ourselves far too seriously. And moving from one way of being to the next takes a whole lot of emotional and mental muscle–pure grit, actually (an ingredient we’re sorely lacking in our life together these days if you ask me…).

But time and time again, we’ve proved its possible to rise up against that which should not be any more and lead the way into something better. Something more whole. Something more like what we were created to be.

I don’t know…maybe I’m pushing the metaphor too far…but it seems to me we can learn a whole lot about the communal body by paying attention to our own bodies. Especially if you believe, as I do, that what happens to you, matters to my own well-being.

We’ve got a lot wound up in our current way of being…my great hope (and, tbh, some days desperate prayer) is that we’ll have the courage to unwind…and so live into everything that’s so beautifully possible and good and full of grace.

Dear, sweet, baby Jesus. May it be so.

(PS: And yes, at this house, we’re having lickable ice cream cones for dinner Friday night! New ways of being are best begun this way….)


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When Redemption Wins: broken hearts and songs of praise

In the last week, via the work I do, I’ve heard two stories about pastors’ families that have broken my heart. Left me in tears and whispering incoherent words of prayer for these families and what they are facing as they make some attempt to move forward through what’s left of the lives they once knew.

As if there isn’t already enough to break your heart these days.

You don’t need me to tell you how completely shattered this world is, how completely weighed down with heartache and hate the very earth seems, how hard it is to find even the tiniest glimmer of hope for the future our children are growing into.

And you don’t need me to itemize it all either. You know. It’s a terrifying world, and, on the one hand, I do not have time to be afraid; on the other hand, I often have to fight the fear back, and I find myself breathing such quiet prayers of thanksgiving for the simplest things, the simplest moments, because not a single bit of it can be taken for granted in a world where getting shot just because you went to the grocery store at the wrong time is a reality; in a world where real, struggling, honest working families already living paycheck-to-paycheck are learning that their tax liability this year is considerably higher than last year and so have to make really difficult choices (meanwhile, college admissions and degrees are essentially being purchased by those who can afford to do so…); in a world where we seem incapable of real conversation, much less actual relationship, with people who do not look like, think like, act like, or believe like we do; in a world where there are mamas literally fighting for food and water and safety for their children; in a world where there are papas trying so hard to protect their families and love their children against the chaos of a world trying to define those same children by their appearance or bank account size.

It’s all utter nonsense. Excuse me…utter bullshit.

I know and love people who were taught a faith that says, essentially, “Follow God, say you love Jesus, and all will be well. Do what the bible says, and you’ll be okay.” And this works just fine…until it doesn’t.

Because sometimes awful, terrible, gut-wrenching, life-changing, horrible, unimaginable things happen to the very best, the most faithful, the kindest, and the most gracious folks. Faithfulness is no guarantee against pain.

I don’t know when this one particular message began to form itself in my soul, when it began to etch itself on my heart, but I am grateful every day that it did. And that message is this: that it isn’t about God preventing our pain, it’s about God standing in us with it.

It isn’t so much about Jesus giving us a list of to-do’s for success and happiness; it’s about taking into our hearts a way of life that seeks to love others as we have been loved, to do kindness, to love mercy.

It isn’t so much about “doing what the bible says” (’cause lemme tell ya, that’s a slippery slope if you’re going to take every single sentence literally–even in the New Testament); it’s about this magnificent testament of faith poured onto paper by centuries of people who believed mightily that life is best lived with God. With God. And the bible is the best way they knew to express that–and it’s the best way I now know to live that life with God, even if, full transparency, my own bible is currently dustier than I would prefer it to be.

Look, here’s where I’m headed–it’s easy to love, to practice kindness, to foster mercy when things are going well. It’s easy to be generous of spirit when we are feeling as if we have and are enough. It’s easy to extend grace when we are feeling graced ourselves. It’s easy to proclaim God’s love and bless God’s name when the sun is shining down on us and the road is abundant with goodness. Or, as Matt Redman sings:

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

And there’s no shame in this. It’s understandable, even.

But the thing is, while the bible is a bit nebulous on more than a few things, and it is complicated and difficult to grasp on more than a few other things, it is very clear, Jesus is very clear, God’s history with God’s people is very clear, on this one particular and very important thing: God is love.

God is love. And so God is good. And so God is with us always. No matter what.

Love does not cause pain. It carries you through it. Goodness does not create evil. It fights against it with you. And God’s presence is not dependent upon your choices or behavior or mistakes or failings. It is unconditional.

And so, as Matt Redman also sings:

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering 
Though there’s pain in the offering 
Blessed be Your name

You see, redemption isn’t about completing a set of “back to good graces” tasks assigned to us by some divine generator. It isn’t even about just saying “I’m sorry,” and being done with it. And it isn’t about trying to be better.

Redemption is knowing that good, bad and even fiercely ugly, we are not alone, and that even in our deepest pain it is possible to know the love of a God who will not let us go, and who stands with us as witness to goodness and grace. I have to believe this transforms our hearts. Calls us to a way of being that, while it isn’t required as some sort of payment to some divine benefactor, is a right and real and proper response to having been loved so fully and completely.

Because loving, really loving, begets loving.

Goodness, real goodness, begets goodness.

Presence, real presence, begets presence.

Out of our broken hearts, it is possible to sing praises to a God who has not, and will not, let us go.

This is grace.

This is redemption.

This is love.

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When Redemption Wins: From my backyard…

I’d been sitting there, staring at this squirrel, watching and listening as he jumped from tree to tree, chatting about goodness knows what with whoever or whatever, for about 10 minutes. And suddenly I realized I’d been doing so–realized that for 10 minutes, I’d thought of nothing else but that squirrel. And the warmth of an early spring sun beating down on my face and legs and shoulders. And how amused I was at his chattering.

Honestly it was the emptiest my brain has been, the most “at rest” it has been in longer than I can remember. For a blessed 10 minutes, only one browser tab was open on the desktop of my brain. And when I finally broke away from the squirrel-induced reverie, I actually felt like a wee bit of peace and quiet had settled across my soul.

This is not something I take for granted. Not at all.

I crave quiet and still at this stage of my life. It’s rare, and that’s something to be thankful for on the one hand–it is the result of a very full and very busy and very, in many ways, blessed existence. It is also something that wears at me…because finding quiet and still is hard. No matter who you are. But for me especially, and perhaps you, it’s hard because I am always, it seems, “on.” I’m either (and always this first) Julie, mom; Julie, development professional; Julie, writer who does not write enough; Julie, (fill in the blank with other roles in my life or yours). And so my brain tracks accordingly. Always on.

And I am forever thinking “big picture.” Wondering how in the world it is that we, collectively, right the ship we’re all on in this country, and this world–one that seems bound to wreck itself because we cannot get over our own interests or desires or fears long enough to see that our salvation as a whole people rests entirely and completely in the willingness to see the Holy–to see God–in one another.

I struggle to see this, even as I know it is true. On the daily. Maybe you do too.

Anyway, I think my point is this: we fuel our own anxiety so often. Technology makes this worse. Social media certainly does. Last night I picked up my phone, not even thinking about it, to scroll through and once I got to the umpteenth bit of political snark, the millionth ad telling me how to be better, thinner, prettier, whatever, the 5000th clickbait post, I thought, “What the actual hell am I doing?”

So today I got outside. Not because I wanted to. But because I knew I had to. I needed the Vitamin D and the manual work of laying mulch and the amusement of my dog barking her brains out as I worked just outside the gate that keeps her safely sequestered in the backyard, “I wanna help, Mama!” I swear she howled.

And I thought of my grandmother. Racille liked to dig in the dirt, too, and be outside. She loved to make things people liked to eat, too, and yesterday I invented a barbecue turkey meatloaf (I cannot stand regular meatloaf) recipe that honestly was delicious and I think she would have been proud of. These two things: being outside on a lovely day and cooking good food for people I love–they can put me back in perspective pronto.

And apparently so can a lone squirrel raising a holy ruckus in my backyard.

I’m not even going to begin suggest I know what would be best for your soul. I resent it when people tell me how I need to worship or reflect or pray or restore myself, so I won’t do that for you. But I will say this: I suspect that when redemption wins, it will not be through the cacophony of advertising or social media or 24 hour news cycles or the damn rat race we all find ourselves caught up in. And it won’t be in the midst of stressful or anxious-driven moments when we can’t see past our current situation or fear or busy-ness or heartache.

I think it will be in the midst of something very human and simple and real–like watching a squirrel run across the tippy-tops of your backyard tree and realizing that there’s so much life out there. So much goodness and joy. Even as we struggle to work through the brutal heaviness our days, weeks, even years can bring.

Because redemption means knowing we’re whole. Loved. Holy and sacred by the very breath we take and worth caring for, worth walking beside, worth having been given life in the first place.

I love more than a few folks carrying more than a few heavy things these days. And I know you do, too. Because such is life. And so for all of us I pray the redemptive grace of knowing that we are not alone. And that in the stillness of even a tiny moment, it is possible to remember what matters most, possible to breathe again, possible to see that Goodness is still at work and Love will, eventually and always, win.

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When Redemption Wins: Pain

“Oh it’s not that bad today,” I told the therapist, “just a little tense.”

She smiled (in retrospect it was a bit of an amused smile…) and said,”Ok…well, let’s see what we can do,” and she went to work on my left shoulder, an on-again/off-again source of pain, tightness and general discomfort in my life–no injury, just a bad-luck draw from the gene pool, exacerbated by hunching my shoulders when I thought myself too tall as a teenager, and now from lots of time spent at my computer.

Her experienced hands ran down my shoulder blade and then, ouch!!, I felt it, and so did she–a giant knot rearing its ugly head, provoked, and unhappy about it. I gasped. And I heard her chuckle and murmur, “Yep. There it is.”

Today my shoulder is sore–not from tension or shoulder-hunching, but from the hard work it took to relax the muscles and ease that damn knot–a tender reminder of pain felt and dealt with, even as I thought, “I’m fine!”

Because this is how it is with pain.

Of any kind.

Be it physical or emotional or mental or spiritual, or a combination thereof, pain will not be ignored, and any attempt to do so will only serve to one day wake the sleeping giant of what we’ve tried to push back, force deep inside, or gloss over with manufactured “happy.”

I’ve written before that I don’t believe God causes our pain. And I stand by that. God is first and foremost and always Love-all-consuming and unconditional. No matter what.

Cause our pain? No. But perhaps use it to work some healing grace in our lives? Absolutely.

Because I also believe God does not waste our pain. Generally, there is something to be learned in the midst of pain, even as it threatens to undo us with its awfulness.

I have a friend who once told me that she has spent the vast majority of her life attempting to avoid pain–physical or emotional either way, she’s built up walls to protect herself, hedged her bets, tried to exact control.

And of course there are ways to prevent pain: not touching a hot stove with bare hands…avoiding substance abuse…striving for healthy relationships…practicing self care. But the truth is that if you are going to live, you are going to hurt. If you are going to truly, madly and deeply love and know joy, you are going to suffer. All-encompassing joy and transforming love do not exist without pain nearby, waiting, because eventually, loss comes. Grief strikes. Destruction happens. And sometimes, this will knock you to your knees, breath gone, with no clue as to how you will actually get up off the floor, never mind take a step or two forward.

Such is the risk of loving…of living.

The greatest gift I believe we can give another person is to recognize and honor their pain. To understand that it might not ever go away, no matter how many positive thoughts we have or how mighty our will to conquer it might be. To see the pain, acknowledge it, but not let it define the person. Or ourselves. And then to simply be in it with them. To not turn away, but to face it, head on, and let it do its slow and agonizing work. No fixing. Just presence straight through it.

Because in the working through it is redemption. I know this sounds impossible. But in the work is redemption, mercy that falls like the sweetest of soft Kentucky spring rains across the burned-out shells of whatever lives we once knew, making space for grace to grow, winding its way into our hearts and reminding us that not once have we ever been alone.

When redemption wins, it will not be because there is no more pain. It will be because despite the pain, there is life, even when it has to be fought for, dug down deep for, pulled by the scruff of the neck along the very rocky road, until one day, we stop for gasping for survival and begin to breathe deep again.

With hope. Tenuous though it may be.

It can all hurt so deeply, y’all. I know. But this is what we were made for. To love and live so completely that it’s possible to be brought face-down into anguish.

And it’s possible, too, to rise from the ashes of what was into the possibility of what might be….

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When Redemption Wins: Each Other

I walked into the coffee shop closest to my house before the sun was up, the girl child safely delivered to school, the long list of work tasks already buzzing in my head, and the need for coffee evident as I fumbled to grab everything I needed from my car as I headed inside. It was dark. The baristas yawned. And there were only two other customers besides me.

One of the little cubbies was open, and I slid in, grateful for the bit of privacy these little side tables along the wall provide. I ordered my latte, fired up my work computer, and while it was warming up, flipped open my calendar, blew through a few personal emails on my phone, and paid a couple of bills.

Light streamed in across my screen, enough to startle me out of my focus, and I looked up, rather stunned somehow to realize that morning had finally broken and the neighborhood had emerged, busy, into a Monday morning. Counting Crows sang about Mr. Jones on the shop music system.

And all around me were people: two men in the corner, praying together. This struck me at some very deep level, and I watched them for a moment, half-embarrassed at catching this vulnerable moment, and half wanting to join in what appeared to be an earnest, humble effort to get Monday started on the right foot. Another man flipped through his iPad as he sipped a small cup of black coffee, elderly and grizzled and wrapped up warm, his persona was more utilitarian, like this was just a quick stop on his way to other things. A couple in matching headsets (cannot even make that up) sat curled up behind a corner table, and I’m still not sure if they were talking to each other or someone unknown inside the headset. And in chairs by the window two young women gathered with nothing other than coffee and chit chat on the agenda.

Ordinary. Commonplace. Nothing miraculous about any of it.

Except really it is all pure grace and miracle. People. Human beings. Breathed into existence by the very essence of God, made whole and perfect just as we are and built to be in holy and sacred relationship with one another.

Just about every single thing in our competition-focused, consumer-driven society rages against the truth of what we were created to be. And it is an exhausting and frustrating battle to stand on the solid ground of the knowledge that we are God’s and nothing can separate us from the Love that created us.

Nothing.

Hold someone’s hand today y’all. Have a real conversation with someone you love. Look up from your cubicle or your treadmill or your phone long enough to see that all around you is life, and that life is nothing short of tremendous mercy rained down on a world so very broken and yet also so full of such redemptive goodness.

Connection matters so much, and we spend so much time in isolation whether we realize it or not. And this isolation is, I believe, our undoing. It breeds hate, destruction and violence in ways both obvious and not-so-much and rips at the fabric of our families and communities with fierce accuracy.

Holding on to each other…recognizing our need for each other…simply noticing each other…this creates space for possibility. For grace. For understanding to blossom and relationships to be forged.

And this, I believe, is where redemption begins. Where healing begins. Where it becomes possible for our true and complete and God-breathed selves to emerge and hope to become something real.

When redemption wins, it will not be in a vacuum. Or on an island. Or in isolation.

It will be in the small and quiet and hardly-noticeable-even moments of connection that remind us of our so completely broken and so completely beautiful common humanity.

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When Redemption Wins: Mardi Gras

When…not if…when…redemption wins….

Today is Mardi Gras, aka “Fat Tuesday,” or “Shrove Tuesday,” to some folks. It’s a pre-Lent free-for-all of sorts, and not just on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. You’ll see lots of churches, lots of civic groups, lots of families eating and drinking lots of decadent stuff tonight, and perhaps a King Cake or two. There’s definitely a bit of gold and purple and green about, “Laissez les bon temps roulez!” right? (I totally just typed that from my high school and college French days–did I get it right??!?)

For about a minute on Sunday I considered cooking Cajun tonite, having some folks over, and seeing if I could find a celiac-friendly King Cake, but I didn’t even get to the “Hey! Y’all come over!” phase before Influenza Type A hit this house, and it’s been all getting the Curly Girl through the fever and aches and sore throat since. So much for the good times rolling. Pass the Ibuprofen, ginger ale and lots of rest please.

I wasn’t so much in a party mood anyway…partly because I was already mulling about in the corner of my brain I use to try on writing ideas this whole notion of a series of Lenten blogs. A whole lot of change and some rocky years have left me and church in a weird sort of place. But a whole lot of support and love and prayers, much of it from church(es), have also left me standing…and so…here I am, thinking about what it means to slide into 40 days of Lent, of reflection and wandering and looking for light, when the world already feels so damn weary and worn and broken.

Worn. Because the pain of broken relationships and shattered dreams has left you sitting among the ruins of what you once called your life and you’ve really no idea how you’re going to get up, or what you’d do if you actually did.

Worn. Because the medical bills keep piling up and the doctors cannot figure it out and meanwhile your loved one continues to hurt and you feel like there has to be an end to this struggle but you sure can’t see it.

Worn. Because if you read one more pathetic and evil Facebook post regarding how all Republicans are cold-hearted bastards or how all Democrats are baby-killers, or anything suggesting one life matters over another, you just might give up your citizenship, because this is poor excuse for who we were meant to be. I’m telling y’all…if…IF there is a bifurcated-tail, pitchfork-in-hand, actual creature at loose right now, it’s finding its fill of fun and inspiration in what passes for politics in this country. We’re destroying ourselves at the pleasure of ego and money and power (and we’re all-ALL-to blame).

Worn. Because the cost of living escalates on the daily, and the choices the average American family has to make in light of that are often terrifying.

Worn. Because you feel so stuck. So alone. So unable to find a way forward. Because it feels like life just won’t let up, and all around you, people are screaming, “Do this! Do that!” and in the chaos of it all you’ve lost any ability to listen to your heart or trust your gut.

Worn. Because grief is not linear. In fact, it is a real bitch sometimes. And it adores sneak attacks.

Worn. Because hate is alive and well. Because betrayal stings. Because fear is a fierce and effective liar. Because you’re tired. Deep in your bones tired.

Worn.

For every example of worn I just wrote, there is a specific person (or specific people) in mind. But really it is all of us. Whether we choose to admit it, or choose to talk about it, or choose to honestly grapple with it–worn, these days, is, I suspect, all of us.

And we stand in desperate, all-consuming, real need of redemption.

Last week,I heard this song by the band Tenth Avenue North. And the chorus reads like this:

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
‘Cause I’m worn

Me, too. And, I try to only be a betting woman on the first Saturday in May in Kentucky…but…if I were to wager, I’d say, “And you, too.

What I also believe with everything I am, is that redemption wins. And so I think I want to spend the next 40 days thinking about that. Witnessing to that. Noticing it around me. And writing about what it all might mean, especially when it comes to being a person who practices redemption, and who believes in resurrection, in the goodness of life made new and hope made real and grace made plain.

This morning, I heard my colleague and friend Joe Pusateri say this, “The good news is not good news unless you know what it stands in contrast to.”

Y’all, first of all, I wish I’d said that! Second of all– #truth. And what I believe the good news stands in contrast to is all that makes us worn. All that threatens to undo us. All that makes us believe the lies that fear and grief and insecurity and uncertainty can tell us. All that tries so mightily to separate us from God.

Only it can’t. It can’t separate us. Not in the end. Because the truth has to do with WHEN redemption happens. Not if.

I know. You think I’m stubborn in my hopefulness. I get that a lot. But it is, quite literally, the only way I know through this life.

So…here we go…40 days.

When Redemption wins. Not if.

No matter how worn you might be….

When.

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when feeling trapped…remembering spring…

I am claustrophobic. Have been as long as I can remember.

I despise tight turtlenecks and multiple layers of clothing for this reason. Tight spaces also bother me, as do crowds that I cannot see a way out of. If you’ve eaten out with me more than a few times, you know I need to be able to see the exit door of the restaurant from where I am sitting. And I am especially anxious in difficult situations that I am struggling to extract myself from with some level of grace and/or dignity. Essentially, I don’t like to be trapped–by materials, by people, by spaces or by predicaments.

That said–I adore being cozy; in close physical proximity to those I love; snuggled under blankets on a cold winter’s night; wound up close in intimacy; a really warm and soft hoodie; on my couch with lots of pillows and a Harry Potter marathon on the SYFY channel. I love my tribe and I’ll stick with them come hell or high water.

See, I choose those things and people. I do not choose trapped.

I’ve known the feeling of being trapped both physically and emotionally, and I imagine you have too. It’s something like being stuck–not sure where the best chance or opportunity to move is, even though you know some kind of movement is needed. Some sort of shift has got to happen, if not by our own making, by sheer luck or grace or unexpected mercy.

The last 10 days, I’ve felt trapped/stuck by the weather here in Kentucky–there’s a reason this state has a high rate of Vitamin D deficiency y’all. I mean, I love it here, but this last stretch of never-ending rain and gray has me ready, if I could, to hop the first plane to somewhere sunny and warm with a large body of water nearby. I don’t like being land-locked (trapped) either, and right now, the dark gray Ohio River, threatening to swell its banks, does not feel like a welcoming body of water that would take me anywhere good.

Folks I love are feeling trapped in other ways–by professional frustration, family heartaches, grief that won’t let up, the vast and unknown landscape of loss, financial stresses…you name it–and I feel their ache, their angst, deeply. When you can’t see how something difficult or hard or painful or suffocating could ever possibly let up…

Last night, on a whim, and crossing my fingers that the gas grill still had some fuel left from early fall, I decided burgers were in order for dinner. Also hot dogs (because picky children). And baked beans. And mac and cheese. I stopped just short of corn-on-the-cob and homemade ice cream as my commitment to imagining a long spring evening couldn’t stretch quite that far. You see–there was sunshine yesterday. Also M pointed out on our way to school that, “Mama! It’s not quite so dark!”

And these two small things were enough to remind me that spring is coming. It really, really is. And as I stood there, shivering while I flipped burgers, I could almost hear the sounds of friends and family gathered on my deck–cold and barren now, but just a couple of months away from becoming our central gathering place once again.

Spring is coming.

And just in case my metaphor is not clear, let me say this: it’s coming for you, too. I swear it. I know that right now you might feel as if nothing will every be okay again. I know that right now you might be worn and afraid and exhausted. I know that right now you might be so very sad. I know that right now you might feel so very stuck. So trapped, by whatever season of life you find yourself in.

But I promise you–it will not always be this way. You’ll sing again. Smile again. Feel like you again–maybe even like a better you. Your grief–while it may never go away–will not always dominate your life. Your pain will not always be your first thought. There is life on the other side of whatever’s got you.

I know exactly where the day lilies will pop up. And where the hydrangeas will bloom. And I know what color the azaleas will be. And I can smell the barbecue sauce and hear the smack talk over corn hole and taste the ice cream churning and hear kids laughing and the dog barking in happy harmony with them.

Spring is coming.

Spring. Is. Coming.