Introspective Insights

Introspective - adj: Examining sensory and perceptual experiences. Insight - n: The capacity to discern the true nature of a situation.

Dare to Reflect – In Reflection is Life

I write out of my weakness, it defines me, the inability to reflect on life. In that weakness I write to discover the divine thread, the God-leading words, the gratitude for the mundane. When I do not write, I am restless and lost, forgetting what I’ve learned, where I’ve been and from where I have come. Despair results and addiction to food, reading, and coloring fill the void, numb the pain.

Coffee flows and steams where I write and obsessive amounts of journals live in jumbled stacks, all written in at one point or another. Coffee paraphernalia, grounds, and mugs strewn all over the kitchen. Pens, pencils, post-it notes, laptop, and lamp.

It is in the reflecting, the looking outside of myself where I find true life. My people busy me with needs, wants, schooling, and general chaos. But it is in the reflection where the purity and beauty of life is lived. The scarlet red cardinal singing on the branch in a background of grey, white, black. The orange pink skies appearing only five minutes at dawn, swept away by the blustering wind. The cherub cheeks of sleeping girl, hair matted, fuzzy sleeper draped. The strong arms of him holding me.

This life also deals its pain, but this reflection is necessary also. Sitting in the chair where my father died, seeing the world he saw in those final moments, leaves swaying and shushing, light fading. Entering in the brokenness of sister standing over infant son’s grave, days marked in black ink that blur as I hang my head. Daughter asking me to read dates on them all as I kneel in damp grass overcome. Friend lost and shattered when brother leaves this world. All life involves loss and each story, experience shines a light warming us to stand and move on, broken, but full of purpose.

I drag myself from warmth in early darkness, stumbling for coffee, shuffling to favorite chair, soft light. I read always, books stacked to my right. I crack open black journal, embossed flowers and words flow from my heart. And when they are typed in, I look back at what I have missed those months. I marvel at the words, the images. Who wrote this? Surely, not me?

Yet, it is only me as I pause in the half-light. I have found and remembered those things I wanted to forget, lost those things that I wanted to remember. They are here, if I have pause to write about them, this scrawl crooked and slashing on page, small and perfectly formed on the next.

My passion rises from this broken down, ugly, stricken world and finding joy, gratitude, divinity as close as my living room, back yard, and across the miles. They are all there if we look, but we must have eyes to see, time to pause, and practice to truly celebrate it. I am not always good at it, but when I make it a habit, I always find it.

My friend, dare to reflect. Even in the pain that we inevitably all must face. And in that pain there is always joy hiding at the next turn.

When We Begin

This past weekend I was privileged to participate in a spiritual retreat – Good News Via de Cristo.  It was an amazing experience that I recommend to all Christians.  This poem was my response to one of the talks where God’s love for us was described so beautifully. 
When we begin, God is there.

Watching, loving, in wonder.

He holds our future in His hands.

He makes our plans and they are good, amazing,
incomprehensible, beyond our imagination.

In all things good and bad, close and far, his banner for us
is love…

Always love, love, love, love – a flag over us.

In baptism we begin our relationship.

We take His name – we, His beloved.

Our marriages and soul ties to family and close friends a
hazy glimpse of the mystery.

This life abundant – more than we can create or plan or
imagine.

The Afterward


Christmas is over…New Year’s ball is dark…kids are
sleeping.  The hoopla and preparation of
the last several weeks has drawn to a close. 
Every year I look forward to this time of year and when it is here and
gone the inevitable sadness creeps up on me.
 
I thought I was smart this year by resisting the buildup – avoiding the
hype…letting myself believe that it was really just “another day”.  But in my quest to avoid the pain, I almost
missed out on the joy and peace and hope that Christmas brings.

I have a cross stitch with Jesus in the manger that says “Gift
of Love”. 
I stare at it and try to
really absorb the message – try to comprehend what really happened that night
over two thousand years ago.  The truth
is that I don’t really get it – I’m not sure that anyone really does, but we
find glimpses of it when tragedy strikes and we pray and mourn and wish that it
was one of us instead of a child struck down in a senseless act.  We realize that we would sacrifice ourselves
and in that sacrifice offer the ultimate gift of love.  

Christmas…it is just one day…one day that we do silly things
preparing for – cutting down an evergreen and adorning it with lights and
ornaments, sending cards, baking obscene amounts of baked good, filling our
homes with bright lights, candles, and other shiny decorations.  We give gifts to remember that gift that came
to us then.  Yet, the day is gone in a
flash of light.  We see the cookie
crumbs, the lights gone dark, the clutter absent and the stark, cold, white
winter lies before us – icy and quiet. 
Maybe this quiet is time for reflection. 
I can’t quite figure it out…how to grasp sadness and embrace it and
grieve for what has passed by.  But maybe
that is the trouble.  Looking back is so
easy when the pain is fresh and looking forward so hard when the view is misplaced. 

Here is the opportunity to start a new journey…to lay down
what has built us up to this moment and find a fresh perspective.  What if the process of getting to Christmas
was the joy?
  What if each day we could
live in anticipation and gratitude and peace? 
Christmas would be a continuation a fulfillment of that joy – a day set
aside to remember and reflect and comprehend this incomprehensible gift. 

I’ll be honest – I don’t know if I can do it.  Dark days lie ahead and light absent unless
we strike the match.  But I have to try –
pushing it all aside – looking at this year, stretched
out before me…anticipating its joys and secrets…putting last year behind me.

The Road Stretched Out

It’s officially spring here in Southeast Michigan and with spring comes the itch in me for a good road trip. There is something about packing into the car with good road food, coffee, books and an atlas and heading out with the road stretched out before us.

I’ve always enjoyed a good road trip. One of the first that I remember was driving from Michigan to Vermont to visit my aunt and uncle. My grandparents and great aunt drove my brother, cousin, and I out there the summer we were 13 years old. I remember so many great details about the drive there and back that the time there, while fun, was not as notable. It was as if the journey itself was the joy and life of the trip. It is that sense of adventure and unknown that makes an ordinary destination a celebration of the gift of this life and freedom we have to roam.

We take many road trips every month to visit family about 90-150 miles away and while that keeps me somewhat satisfied, it’s the big road trips that refresh my soul…remind me that new, simple things are what keep me going – keep the excitement in the journey.

The road trip is a metaphor for life for me right now…this journey I’m on doesn’t have a clear cut or flashy destination. But I’m learning here in the quiet rhythm of everyday that it’s the sights, sounds, and experiences are what matters – as long as I keep looking for them – longing for them and looking out the window, but also inside to those faces I love so much. Its Zach telling me his new Easter clothes are “fantastic”…Abby making up cheerleader type moves as she keeps begging me for yogurt…Kayla making up silly songs and dancing around the living room while Zach and Abby follow along. It’s little hands around my neck, hugs so tight I can scarcely breathe, it’s Zach saying “I love you, my highness”, Kayla asking for me to put my arm around her. When I really take in these sights and sounds, I’m overcome with the gravity of it all – this journey – never passing this way again – each moment coming faster and faster like I’m watching the sunset and trying to hold each ray in my hand.

This thankfulness and humbleness does not flow from me as often or as intensely as it should. But I truly am thankful for this road stretched out before me – wherever it may lead.

As far as that big road trip…well, it has not been planned yet. But I’ll take the two small ones over the next two weeks and savor the journey to places and people that I love. And that is more than enough for this roaming soul.

How Les Miserables Saved Me

The last couple of weeks have been pretty stressful for me (hence my absence here in the blogosphere). I’ve let too many things get to me on a personal level that shouldn’t affect me, normally don’t affect me. The bottom line is that I allowed the burdens of this life to overtake me for this period of time and it negatively affected me in many ways. I broke out in hives, I couldn’t sleep well, I was nauseous. I was angry, snapped at my family, and avoided people.

The days were heavy, dark, tedious, drudgery. The thankfulness was gone and consequently the joy. I was really struggling with a lot of things…more than I cared to admit.

You see, we all say things we don’t mean – we say that people, situation, things “drive us crazy”. I’ve tried very hard for a long time to avoid saying things like that because I believe very strongly in the power of words to affect you, to change you, to break you down. And yet, these last couple of weeks my tongue was going through some type of adolescent rebellion and I did not do a thing to keep it in check. So I believe that I was starting to live under the curses of those words I was speaking.

I believe that is how the enemy works – he starts chipping away at your mind. There is some mental illness in my family and there was a little part of me that kept asking the question, “Am I next?” What an awful lie to believe. The battleground is the mind and I was letting mine be setup for the massacre.

A few days ago we went to see Les Miserables. This is mine and Jerry’s favorite play. I was anxious and tense and was doing my best to snap out of it so I could enjoy myself. About half way through the first act I begged God to forgive me. I told Him I couldn’t handle these things any more – I couldn’t hold onto these burdens and I desperately needed His peace. And as I opened my eyes, His peace washed over me. Instantly the tension was gone. I held Jerry’s hand.

We watched the play – my favorite song – when Fantine dies – “Come to Me” did not make me cry as it normally does. Towards the end of the play – I was taken by surprise – strangely, like I have been nearly every other time I have watched it by the words that I love so dearly – the words that have settled this work of art into my heart forever. The main character, Jean Val Jean is dying and as he joins Fantine and Eponine in heaven singing, he turns and says, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” My tears fell down as I realized that I truly don’t get it. I do not see God because I do not love. My heart is cold and God is absent when I do not love.

All of this pain, this turbulence, this instability that I’ve been fighting – it was because love was absent. This overwhelming thought settled into my brain. I became resolute to find a way to love at all times, all places, all circumstances. I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but I know that I must.

So Les Miserables – “the miserable” – the miserable experiences, people, circumstances – they truly are the things that will save me – if only I have love.

Looking for Green Things

When I was a little girl, one of the things I loved most was exploring our yard during the spring and summer. Our house was about 20-25 years old at that point and there was so much vegetation on the perimeter of the yard that there was always something new to discover. Spring was always exciting – buds popping out here, flowers pushing through the earth there.
Now that I’m older I’m teaching my kids to look for green things in our yard. Already there are tiny daffodils, hyacinths, tiger lilies, and lily of the valley barely pushing through the dirt. If you look closely at the trees, tiny buds are appearing. Birds are chirping, worms are wiggling, bugs are scurrying. If you look hard enough the earth is coming alive right in front of you.

These seasons – I’ve never realized until this year how attached I am to the changes they bring. Winter is my least favorite season, but the beginning of it this past year was cleansing, exciting to me. I can’t say enough about this spring. Being outside tonight with the kids sharing their excitement in finding these green things – Abby’s laugh as she was swinging, Zach going head first down the slide, Kayla searching for worms under rocks – this is what life is all about. So many other parts of my life have turned to drudgery and the last few days I haven’t let this joy, this discovery of what is most important penetrate through the sludge. But today the light finally broke through.

This is the year of joy, right? Enter in – JOY – my heart and hands are open.

Distant Horizon

Today I’m working hard at finding the good…looking for what to thank Him for…finding the joy. Because if I relied on my circumstances, I would be overcome. Tragedy always seems to come in multiples and I can’t sit here and anticipate the next one. Instead I can try to stop, right here and turn it around. Being right here is how I can experience the joy…only here, only now.

I’ve been writing it all down the last week or so – per day, by number. I’m determined – determined to grasp this joy – I won’t give up. I’m thankful for:

50. Blue sky in the distance beyond the clouds.

51. Being home with a sweet baby girl, who even though she is sick is in good spirits.

52. Having known an awesome person, my brother-in-law, who God decided he needed more.

You see, if I look forward, past all this and think about what I have to get through – what we have to get through as a family, I miss the joy of what is right now. Even if it isn’t ideal or easy or simple. Even if it is complicated, messy, painful. That joy does not rely on my circumstances – what is happening around me, but this conscious decision to be thankful no matter what.

So I stop and look outside. The blue sky is out there – far in the distant horizon. I can’t reach it and maybe it will never be right here, but I can see it and be thankful. I can stop and experience this moment and name it and write it down and then it is mine forever.

Friends, please stop today – stop right where you are. See that joy in front of you…experience NOW, don’t rush past, hang on to this moment – there will never be another one like it. Life is too fragile to keep going this fast. That distant horizon is not beyond you or out of reach, but right here.

Don’t let it get away.

The Winter of Discontent

Back to that discussion of joy…better yet – the living out of joy. I have a confession to make, I haven’t been very joyful lately – can you tell by the last few posts? And yet here I am in the year of joy and with it being so fresh and new and all I haven’t quite slipped it out of its pretty, iridescent wrapping and really embraced this shiny, new thing. It’s kind of like when I buy journals or new books and *gasp* don’t crack them open. (Check out one of my original posts from the archives on Journals.)

I’ve come to realize that I’m in the Winter of Discontent. Yes, I capitalized it to emphasize how much it is affecting me. It has dawned on me that this Winter of Discontent started last year, but it had its beginning long before that…in a showering of seeds that hadn’t quite sprouted until a year ago. You see, I was on that mama high – nearing the end of my leave time after Abby was born. I had about a month to go and the thought of going back made me reel.

After every child I wanted to find a way to stay home with them, but it wasn’t to be. But here I was child #3 in my arms and the thought of going back again, for a 3rd time was more than I could bear. We had been praying and pinching pennies, but it wasn’t enough. It was wintry and bitterly cold that January – much like it is now. I stared out into the snow everyday praying for a miracle.

I went back and the return was less than smooth for many reasons – a lot of the problems of my own doing, some not. The Winter of Discontent was in full swing. The last big snowstorm of the year happened my first day back to work. I cried.

Spring came and now a full year has passed and these scenes, images, repeating themes haunt me. This Winter of Discontent – it never fully went away. But I’m reading a new book and I hope all of you will consider reading it too – One Thousand Gifts. The author, Ann Voskamp is an awesome blogger that I have had the pleasure to read over the last 5 years. In the first couple of chapters she rips my heart wide open and I realized that gratitude – being thankful for where you are right now is what gets me to joy. And even though I have posted that joy flows into those other things, a thankless heart has nowhere to go.

So I’m making lists – much like she did – starting small…learning to be thankful / content in all situations. It’s in these things we don’t understand – the supernatural power of gratitude – where I believe the true miracle lies.

I look forward to spring and the true end of this Winter of Discontent. I know that I will find that joy stirring up inside me, melting the snow of this thankless heart.

Grace

I didn’t want to face today. No specific reason, calamity or concern, I just didn’t want to do it. I went to bed too late, did not properly prepare as I normally do.

The phone rings too early to be a normal call and I stumble out of bed to answer it. It is Kayla’s school closed due to weather. I sit on the edge of the bed a bit perplexed. There was no weather warning – no big hoopla on the news last night. I tell Jerry that I will stay home with her and lay back down.

Minutes later I’m up with Abby…pondering the gift that is today. The gift of being home when it was not planned or even hoped for. I pray my normal morning prayers and it’s as if God is smiling down at me. I thank him for this day. I’m overwhelmed by the grace he has given me and wonder about the purpose of today. You see, there were only a handful of schools closed today – the main school district in our town closed along with Kayla’s school and a few others. It just doesn’t make sense.

I can’t help but think that the Father knew what I needed today and here I am. Working, baking bread and cooking soup, making coffee and enjoying the quiet and productivity that comes from being snug at home.

How has God shown his grace to you today?

My Sweet Abigail

To my Abigail – a very late birthday tribute.

I look in those deep, blue eyes and touch my fingertip to her dimple and watch her wiggle and shoulder sway across the room. This sweet, little baby is NOT a baby anymore, but a toddler?!?!?! I’m in disbelief…

I think back to last year at this time – sweet little bundle in my arms sleeping and nursing, waking me up at all hours, cooing, and snuggling, and smelling of sweet, newborn goodness. I look out at the same snow, quietly falling, darkness drifting in…

This little girl – the gift I didn’t know I needed…I can’t imagine life without her screeching and boisterous laugh, sweet little hands around my neck, pulling my hair, open-mouthed kisses that sometimes bite. So smart – pointing at what she wants, nodding and shaking her head yes at questions I ask – so staunchly opinionated about life.

My sweet Abigail, my life was not complete without you. I’m in awe of the gift that is you and I enjoy every minute we have been given together. In some ways I wish that time would stop, but it is so much more exciting watching you grow and become the sweet little girl God made you to be. I love you my sweet babe.