Beautiful Letting Go

It’s finally fall. In Texas we’ve been enduring ridiculous October days with high temperatures in the 90s. This makes us cranky, unable to breathe and creates fashion problems because you cannot wear sweaters and cute boots when you are having a heat stroke. We can’t decorate because pumpkins rot so fast in hot weather and rotting pumpkins is not the look we were going for.

Just this week the weather finally has turned for us. There are no words for how this feels. I made tortilla soup and pumpkin bread as fast as I could. I was ready with long pants, a long sleeved shirt and fuzzy socks for the first time in what seemed like decades.

Yesterday, I saw this quote for the first time, “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go.” I don’t know who said it, but it caught my imagination. My yoga teacher often says at the end of our practice, “let go of that which no longer serves you.” In yoga, for me, that is stress, a busy mind and the bound up feeling in my joints. I always think about what else I might need to let go of as well.

I’ve never before tied autumn to the practice of letting go. But, as the leaves release, perhaps so should we. Maybe it is time to let go of a bad habit, a toxic relationship or  the clutter in our homes. Maybe it is a season to let go of an old hairstyle, a resentment, an anger or a destructive grief. Maybe it is time to release the clothes we’ve not worn once 1977 or from 3 sizes ago. Maybe it is time to let go of a job, a burden or that worry that you will never fix. Maybe it is time to release our resistance to help and call the therapist, the doctor or call on God.

More than once, I’ve had to call on God’s spirit to let go of something that was no longer serving me. The prayer was simple, “God, I need you because I cannot let go of this alone.”

Imagine, in this new season as we marvel at the golden, orange and red leaves of fall, breathe in the crisp cool air, make and eat pumpkin everything, that we are also taking our cue from nature and allow a beautiful letting go.

 

 

 

The Power of Pink

It’s that time of year when pink takes over sports, products, articles and all facets of media as we focus on how breast cancer has or will change the lives of 1 in 8 women and many men. Yes, I know some people don’t like the pink emphasis, but I do.

Six years ago at this time, I was newly diagnosed with breast cancer. I had two weeks where I knew before I could widely tell people because I hadn’t seen a surgeon yet and did not know The Plan. During that time, I had a couple of days at the university I attended, Texas A&M. It is where my dad went to school and my brother. It is where I met my husband. It is where I met some of my still best friends. It is the undergraduate university for all three of our children. Woven throughout my Aggie experience is the Corps of Cadets at A&M.

The cadets now wear pink carnations at a home football game each year to increase breast cancer awareness. Six years ago, at a home football game, in the midst of the crowds, I sat down on a curb in the shadow of the football stadium and lost it. I wept for all the not-knowing I was in the midst of. I wept for all I feared I might miss. I wept because I was weeping in public on a curb at an event that was supposed to be fun. I wept because cadets have to wear pink carnations.

Last Saturday, six years later, I found myself standing in a spot very close to the same spot where I lost it. Since then, I’ve finished treatment, thanks in part to a new test (The Breast Cancer Index) which gave my doctor more information about my specific response to treatment. I’ve benefitted personally from advancements made due to the hype/funds raised and spotlight on this disease.

In the last six years, I’ve worn lots of pink. I’ve seen two children graduate from college, our daughter get her Master’s degree and our youngest graduate from high school. I helped plan and attended our daughter’s wedding. I was there (right there) for the birth of our first grand baby and now am excited about another one on the way. It’s true! And in and out of all that, lots of sweet, precious, normal life.  This time as I stood in that  same spot, instead of melthing, I was watching our third child as drummer in the Aggie Band.

In that six year time frame, I’ve lost two friends, Lina and Sharon, to breast cancer. I’ve seen others diagnosed and fight back (Rhonda, Robin, Vickie, Tana, Melissa, Terri, Kim, Stephanie and Kenda.). I’ve been encouraged by another tribe of  women who  fought the disease before me. They inspired me by being happy, healthy and telling me I’d get past this. One even told me, “You’ll one day have days where you won’t even think about it,” She was right.

Pink matters to me.The ribbons and the hype supports us in the fight. It honors my journey and the journey of so many.

This weekend the entire Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M once again wore pink carnations. This time our youngest son wore one. He was 13 when I was diagnosed. I wore my new pink Aggie breast cancer shirt even though most everyone else was in maroon. My husband had no trouble finding me this week in the crowds.

The back of my shirt says “There’s no place like hope.” That says it all. Cadets in carnations give me hope. Pink is hope. Thank God for hope.

Living Prayer

I wanted to write about pumpkins today. I wanted to celebrate October blue skies and the hope and golden orange crunchy nature of fall finally arriving, or at least the hope of it.

Instead, like you, I awoke to heartbreaking news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas. My Twitter feed filled with bad images and violence and of course, chatter of all types.

I made my husband turn off the news because I actually felt the hurt and horror deep in my heart. I couldn’t bear it.

On top of this unbelievably awful thing, there are Other Things, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, politics, racism, sexism, discrimination, mistrust, a violent destroying of each other with our words and our angst.

Not to mention the Personal Things: normal struggles of life, death, disease, relationships, finances. Things that do not go as planned. Layers of Things, bombarding us and the people we love.

Any one of these Things is enough, too much actually. Instead they are coming these days in waves and clumps and avalanches, literally.

As I walked today, I asked God to guide me about what to write about. I almost just published a fourteen word blog, “Lord, have mercy on us. We are tearing your world and each other apart.”

Instead, a word of hope came in a song by Alison Krauss with these words with a twist from an old hymn, “Take my life and let me be a living prayer my God to Thee.” (A Living Prayer)

Let me be a living prayer.

To me this means we fall to our knees in prayer. We acknowledge that there is evil in our world and we are a part of it. We confess that our hearts are breaking, shattered even. And then we stand up and live a prayer.

We work for gun control or to increase awareness and action around mental health issues. We give blood, We mentor an at-risk child. We raise our kids with more love and compassion and less bigotry and divisiveness. We run for office or try to change something, somewhere because guess what? Whatever we are currently doing is not working too well. And, when we argue endlessly and hatefully about what to change and how to change it we, ourselves, set everything back.

Last week, I cried watching the beginning of a football game, (a football game!)  because I could see very real generational pain on the players’ faces. That whole thing was about so much more than patriotism. It was about how we are tearing each other apart–word by word, violent action by violent action, personally, systemically. It is about our culture…in this country. It is about how we treat human beings. Lord have mercy, seriously, have mercy on us.

I am heartbroken today. I’m also praying. I’m also asking God to help me be a living prayer. I hope you will join me in falling to your knees and then in getting up and doing something different, something better.

When Hummingbirds Argue

Jesus was a master storyteller. He loved tackling tough topics with stories about common things that every one could relate to. Lots of time he wouldn’t even try to explain what he was talking about. He would just tell his story about the crops, the wedding, the farmer or the feast and leave it there, trusting people to figure it out. It’s kind of funny when you read scripture knowing this because you can see how many people didn’t get his parables. This didn’t seem to bother Jesus at all. He just kept telling stories.

I like to preach like that. It’s especially fun when I’m not even sure about the full point of the story I’m telling. Sometimes, as the storyteller, you have to trust that the listener will glean more from the story than you could even imagine. It’s an exercise in trust.

Last week, I purposely spent the week alone, away from my usual distractions. I wanted to do this because I believe it is a good spiritual exercise to learn to be alone with yourself and your thoughts.  I also wanted to get some writing done for a couple of upcoming projects.

At first, I had to struggle with the usual discomfort of hanging out with myself. I found I talked to my dog a lot. She didn’t say much. After a while, I listened better to other things: the sound of the wind, a storm rolling in, the difference in the birds morning noises and how they sang in the evenings. After a day or so, I started paying more attention to the hummingbirds and the buzz they made when they whirred by.

Then, I got pretty good at noticing their chirping. Mostly, though, they just argued. They had access to three full feeders. There was plenty of room around the base of each feeder for 4 or 5 to land at once and feed (They do land, by the way). The hummingbirds would have no part of group dining. They dive bombed each other and argued all week about who should feast at any given time.

There was plenty of food and plenty of room for every hummingbird. Instead they argued. Soon some started posting on social media about how fed up they were with each other and how offended they were by the stance of their fellow hummingbirds. Video clips were shared of who was right and who was wrong. Whole news channels popped up around each differing hummingbird point of view. The leader type hummingbirds spoke out and made everything worse. Protests began. Outrage was high. Pretty soon they didn’t even treat each other like hummingbirds, but enemies.

All along, my dog and I just shook our heads and wondered why those silly hummingbirds couldn’t see The Truth more clearly.

Sanctuary Places and People

Holy spaces, sanctuary places, safe people are already embedded into our real lives. On my morning walk through a nearby wooded area, there is a particular stretch of the walk that I call my sanctuary. The trees form an arch. Light filters through the trees in a way that takes my eyes up every time. No one is usually around. It feels peaceful, holy, set apart and full of God’s presence to me. I worship there regularly.

I have another sanctuary place or two at home. One is my red chair right beside my journals, Bible and devotional materials. In the warm weather, I can see the patio plants, hear the fountain and the birds out there. In the cold weather, I’m close to my fireplace.

I’m fortunate to have access to some dear friends’ lake home where I have another few sanctuary places…a screened-in porch, a deck with a lake view, another wooded walking place.    I’m headed there this week to work on an upcoming retreat I’m speaking at. I can’t tell you the anticipation I feel at the thought of five days of nature, silence, prayer, reading, walking, resting and writing.

I also have sanctuary people. Lovely people who I feel safe and open with. People who have shared lots of layers of life with me. These are the ones who don’t require small talk…we can spend time together that flies by and still not quite have said all that needs saying.

When I was younger and much busier, I wish I would have spent more time recognizing my sanctuary places and people and savoring them sooner. I wish I would have written them all down in a list and put a big “S” by each one. I wish I would have intentionally gleaned out the non-sanctuary places and toxic people or at least minimized my time with them.

In Jesus Always by Sarah Young, today’s entry, she imagines Jesus telling us to look for My unseen presence around you. The beauty of nature and the pleasures of loved ones are reminders, pointing you to Me. What does it mean to look for Christ’s unseen presence?

As I head to the lake sanctuary, I challenge you to make a list of your sanctuary places and people and schedule more time in those holy spaces.

  

Sparkles

In Texas, the past week has been horrendous with a major hurricane hitting our coast and flooding cities. Weather watchers now report that two more hurricanes are now gearing up. Our country is going through some things too. And, our world is teetering in several places on the edge of serious conflicts/wars. People are going through things as well. Tough things. Unspeakable things.

Every week when I write this blog, I have to acknowledge the tough things because that is the context in which we are living. It just is.

If I was left to my own feelings, opinions and media consumption, I’m pretty sure I would lose it and float off in a sea of anger and anxiety…because, well, the tough things keep happening.

Thank goodness, that is not the only input I have. Thank goodness, I journal, pray and read scripture and devotionals. I know it is a good practice for me because that discipline always offers me a surprising perspective.

Today, for example was about sparkles. Jesus Always by Sarah Young: When you are feeling joyless, you need to pause and remember: I am with you….seek to see Me in your circumstances….Keep on looking until you can discern the Light of My presence shining on your difficulties, reflecting sparkles of joy back to you. p. 260

Sparkles of joy…I did not see that coming. I’ve always been big on the whole Light of the world theme and that all will be made well in the end. But, sparkles? Now? In the midst of our current day messes, problems, worries and griefs?

And then I started thinking about all the recent sparkles: our one year old evacuee grandson devouring a warm buttered blueberry muffin; a cottontail bunny I saw on my walk; rainbows that draped the sky after hurricane Harvey; acts of compassion, giving and heroism for others; JJ Watts’ fundraising miracle; churches opening their doors, making flood buckets and doing disaster relief. Funny things and beautiful things and unexpected things. Sparkles.

A friend of mine faced major cancer surgery last week. She and I actually laughed on the phone the day before at a tiny bright spot in the whole thing that no one but breast cancer warriors would understand. Sparkles of joy.

I don’t know what you are going through. My guess would be that it is something tough, unimaginable or even unspeakable. The surprising word of faith is this: look for the sparkles of joy. It turns out, they are everywhere.

 

No Words: Just Prayers

So many things to feel right now. Last week (was that only last week?) began with an eclipse in North American that captured our attention for a while. That pleasantly distracted us from the difficulties and horror of Charlottesville before that. Then, seemingly out of nowhere Hurricane Harvey ripped into Texas and is still planted here, devastating communities and uprooting thousands and thousands of people.

For me, personally, the rest of life kept happening too. A son off to college and seeing him again after an intense 10 day boot camp environment. An empty nest that grieved me and freaked me out too. Officiating a beautiful wedding of people I cherish. Friends going through deep losses and more than difficult life situations.

Our daughter, son-in-law and baby grandson live 30 minutes from the coast of Texas. Their town, Dickinson, has been on the national news since Saturday. It is now under mandatory evacuation. It is still raining there.

My nest is no longer empty. We’ve added a couple of adults, a baby and 2 big dogs to the household. Seeing the devastation and upheaval on the news is one thing. When it is people and places you know, it is excruciating. Our daughter’s best friend is a nurse. She actually kayaked to work a few days ago. The hospital is understaffed, over full, rationing food. The staff is working back to back shifts with little sleep, no showers, all while not knowing about the status of their own homes.

If you think too long about the damage of the floods to the infrastructure, economy and health of this huge area, it is more than overwhelming.

One time, when I was in the midst of a health crisis, I had a nightmare that I was swimming in the deep of the ocean in the middle of the night. I could not see shore. The water was black around me. In the dream, I felt sharks bumping me. I woke up terrified and gasping for air. From deep in my heart came a scripture that I must have memorized along the way. I did not think of it. It just rose up inside me. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” Isaiah 43:2 Those words brought immediate peace and relief to me.

Today, I have so many feelings but not too many good words. Today, this scripture is a prayer in my heart for all who are touched by this hurricane or of pain and terrors of other types. God, send the comfort and reassurance of your Holy Spirit and give us peace. Amen