Restoration.

Life is delicious these days. The air in these piney woods feels like magic, the relationships and interactions with both my old and newly developing tribe are particularly sweet, each sunrise feels like a kiss from a lover, and my heart beats a grateful rhythm in my chest. After everything that has transpired in the last three years, this part of the journey has brought a particular joy I thought I would never know again.

A large portion of this season has been tinged with restoration: the restoring of dead dreams and left behind hopes and bitter ends and painful longings for unanswered prayers.

After a serious relationship ended (by my choice) three years ago, I found myself afraid to be outside my house in the dark, I stopped attending my church so as not to be under his leadership, and I was sad. So very very sad. I didn’t know how deeply the abuse and narcissism had affected my soul just then. I didn’t have words for the fear that had seeped into all the areas of my life.

Then my grandmother died. I listened to her death rattle for a week while she fought the end of her life; I didn’t sleep for weeks afterward while those horrid sounds replayed over and over in my head at night. I left the lights on all the time and cried and cried. That was the year of lonely, sleepless nights. I won’t soon forget it.

It was some time after that when I knew it was time to leave my job. But things failed. Or rather, didn’t go as I planned. Then my mum got sick. With a heavy heart and a handful of broken dreams and a broken heart, I moved back north.

I’ll skip over the next 18 months in the story. It was a lonely, sometimes sweet, oftentimes hard, part of the journey. I will always be thankful for those days, though. They taught me a lot, brought some good folks in my path, and helped me understand better the need for healthy boundaries.

And then wild things happened. The goodness has taken my breath away. I have asked the Lord nearly every day, “Is this real? Is this real?” He has assured me, through His word, through His spirit, through the actions and words of others, that this is, indeed, very very real.

My dreams of working in higher education, particularly at a state institution, have been restored. My job is so great that it doesn’t feel like work. It wears me out, it challenges what I know, it pushes my introvert limits to the max, but it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like magic made every day in the confines of an unassuming group of offices filled with ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The people with whom I serve these kids absolutely amaze me. They are incredibly talented, passionate, and raw. I love their honesty, their compassion, and their hearts.  I love their good morning greetings and their willingness to work and their acts of service. I love them for who they are and how they suss out quiet lives with dedication and grace and integrity. Every one of them will go far and I am so excited to have joined them in this part of their journey.

My inner longing to live and work in East Texas has been restored. I had given it up, laid it down, and let it go sometime last year. But here I am. Right where I have wanted to be for so long. It has been more lovely and more comforting than I dared hope.

And the friendships I have rekindled in recent months. The sweetness has been almost too much to bear.  M and I walked away from our friendship four years ago in a bitter meet  over forgotten coffee cups. It was terrible. I haven’t been angry for a long long time, yet I also wasn’t willing to reach out anymore. But…I laid down my pride and stomped over my walls some weeks ago. That’s how I found myself curled up in a sweet little coffee shop near downtown Dallas, looking into brown eyes I know. Apologies were made, catching up on four years of life was done, and now we can rest again in the sweetness of a friendship defined by raw conversation and calling one another to the carpet when necessary. I have some mad respect for this guy. Glad he’s here.

In that same day, I also experienced the joy of a meal and a sunset with my A and her husband. It had been a few years, but it might as well have been yesterday since we last spoke. What grace.

J and I didn’t talk for almost two years. We weren’t even mad. We were just plain busy and consumed by personal events. But to hear her voice and hear her life and hear her laughter made a rainy evening lovely. She doesn’t feel so far away anymore. I’m so thankful.

The best restoration of relationship story is not even a rekindling, but a letting go. That abuse and narcissism that crippled my tender heart? Well, I’m not afraid of him anymore. I haven’t been for a long time, but I didn’t know if it was real until I found myself living only 90 miles away. But I’m not afraid. I’m just free. I can honestly say I’m happy for him and his new, growing family. I will never see him again, never have to watch my back, never have to fear an angry outburst or another threat. I am free. Free to live without fear. Free to love. Free to be honest and real with another human being. It feels awfully nice.

The past few months have seen answers to every prayer but one. And that last one, it’s kinda big. I’m okay with waiting a while longer. When I think about the restoration of the past few months, I am awash in joy. I can’t believe it. It is all so wonderful. It’s real, but I just can’t quite believe it. Life cannot possibly get any sweeter.

What delicious days. My heart, my life, my career, my dreams…all has been redeemed and restored. All is gift. All of it. The wild past, the achingly sweet present, the hopeful future. All is gift.

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A letter to the victims.

Dearest darling girls,

I wish I could tell you I understand, but I do not. I have never been molested, never sexually assaulted, never sexually abused in any manner. I cannot imagine what you felt then, and I cannot imagine what you feel now. I can only tell you I’m sorry.

LITTLE GIRLS PLAYING

I’m sorry that we will probably never know your names. We will only know the name of the one who did this to you, and even then, the details are sketchy at best. He will receive all the press, and you will not. I am so sorry for that. I wish I knew your names, not to drag them through mud, but to pray for you individually, to offer you a hug, to let you know that you are not alone and that you are not at fault.

I’m sorry that the crime against you was not dealt with at the time it was committed. There will be no justice for you, because our justice system fails though it tries. I’m sorry that adults in the situation decided not to act swiftly. Though I understand their actions and their deep desire to protect their son and to get him help, I am still sorry that those decisions have affected you, the ones on whom we should be keeping focus.

I’m sorry that our culture perpetuates the lie that molestation, and other sexual crimes, are best kept secret and quiet, while the victims wander in shame. I hate that. I will always hate that. I wish I could tell you that it is okay, that it was always okay, to speak aloud what was happening to you. I pray you have a mentor, counselor, friend, parent, or other wise individual in whom you can confide, on whose shoulder you can cry, into whose arms you can fall if a memory affects you.

I’m sorry so many of us, Christian and not, have felt it our duty to throw stones on your behalf. It has long been my belief that hurting others on behalf of hurting people is no way to bring healing. The community at large does not know your story, your REAL story. We are only given what the media deems necessary to tell, true or not, in order to make a buck. This means that the number of victims in this debacle rises daily, from you to a man who made grave errors as a teen to entire families involved. And yet we still throw stones.

I have five friends who have been in your situation, though their perpetrators will never be in the news. I have been privy to their stories years after the fact, years after any legal justice could be sought. I have seen their shame-filled tears, and heard their broken voices, and watched their hands shake as they have relived their horror and became vulnerable in order to heal. I have also watched them rise from the ashes and heal and still get broken sometimes, and live incredible and brave lives. May you, all of you, do the same.

May you know daily that Christ loves you and cares for you. May you know that He redeems all things. May you know that you are beautiful and brave, and you are bigger and better than what has been done to you. God is full of unending grace and abounding love for you.

With love.

Good gifts. {a birthday reflection}

I am not so hot at recognizing good gifts when they come. Sometimes I find myself far too caught up in the muck and mire of daily living and fail to see the sacred side of things and the small joys within it all. Those small joys are there, ripe for the picking. But I am a nomadic dreamer at heart, so I wander with a hopeful heart and a basket I don’t always fill, missing the joys here and there, in and among the thistles. (I am pretty sure I just jacked that metaphor. Bear with me.)

This past year has been like that, missing things along the way. 31 was hard. It was supposed to my golden birthday and a golden year, but it feels like a bad dream in so many ways that got off to an awful start by not one, but two, failed and cancelled celebrations. And yet, there was so much joy. On the eve of 32, I am beginning to realize just how much joy the Lord packed into this year so keep me going, to keep me dreaming, and to keep me leaning into the everlasting arms. These good gifts have sustained me, and have surprised me on a near daily basis.

Leaving my home of six years was incredibly difficult. I went willingly because I knew I needed to go, but it broke my heart to say goodbye all the same. It was made worse because I left my home not for new adventures but to return to the town I swore I would never set foot in again, a town that serves only as a reminder of broken and awful things. I am certain the Lord laughed at my determination to stay away, and then gave me good gifts for the transition. My darling friends of many years, Rebecca, Toni, Cindy, and Traci, were here to greet me and remind my hurting heart of how lovely it is to be known in your thicks and thins and loved anyway. And how I love them, these women. I have many words for them. Good gifts, all.

Saying goodbye also meant saying hello. My mum and dad have established community here and I have been incredibly blessed to meet and learn about the people who love my people. Chuck and Linda, Frank and Betty, Kathy and Gary, Kathy and Dale, and Dan and Cheryl…good gifts. I so admire these faithful couples and their perseverance and their willingness to walk alongside my parents. Really really good gifts.

In a season of constant change, my constants this year have been my lovely girls at work. We have laughed so hard. And worked so hard. And been so frustrated. Sometimes at each other. Together. They have been my people, some of them always will be, and for that I am deeply grateful. Chris, Lizzie, Jean, Shauna-Lou, Brookie, Anna, Em, Kathy, Kelsey, and Misty. Good gifts. Heavens, such good gifts.

My heart is scattered all over the world, and a large chunk of it will remain forever in NWA. I see now that the various texts and Skype dates and letters and cards from my precious people have sustained me through the times I wanted to give up this year. And I wanted to give up a lot. These women set the world on fire every day where they are and they make no apologies for doing so: my wise and truth-speaking MegLeigh, my brilliant soul sister Alena, the incredible beating heart of my Janna, my sweet and wild Jan, my loyal and faithful and amazing Diane, my thoughtful Sarah, my fellow gypsy Brittnay, my tough and beautiful Kate, and my bestest beastie Tori. Good gifts.

On the cusp of Easter, I am reminded, too, to be thankful for the “goodest” gift: my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The One Who loves and saves, Who loved and saved me, Who is just and honest and pure and holy, Who encourages my questions, Who is unafraid of my doubt or my occasionally wild tongue, Who made me, Who wakes me up every morning with joy and the readiness for adventure in all its forms, Who works things together for my good (even when I don’t see it and I don’t like it), Who is patient, Who remains present, Who died and rose again. For Him, I am the most grateful. For without Him, none of this would be possible. For without Him, I, the Dana who dreams and travels and loves wild and seeks joy and doubts and isn’t always nice and can be really bad at life sometimes and wants everything written down on paper, would not be possible.

Good gifts. From the good Giver. Amen.

TWINE AND PAPER PACKAGES

Ashes.

I just have not had time. I know very well there are 24 hours in a day and that we all have 24 hours to choose how to spend, but I have not had time. I wish there were 48 hours in a day right now. Just for awhile. Then I could spend more time over my coffee cup and more time over my words, and maybe I wouldn’t have to rush so dang hard from one job to the next. I ran three red lights this week alone in my rush to get to required destinations.

I hate rushing. Despise it, really.

So the Lenten season is a blatant personal inconvenience. I don’t have time to think about it. As a girl who refuses a denominational label these days, thinks solidly Wesleyan in her theology, but grew up Southern Baptist, I do not observe Lent. I never have. Not that I think anything is wrong with it, but it has never been part of my learned practice, nor my chosen practice. At least not physically.

But I wept on Ash Wednesday this week because I could not think of a single place in this town I no longer know of where I would be accepted to have ashes on my forehead. And I really wanted the ashes. I wanted a reminder that in the midst of the craziness of my right now, God is still God and I am not. I wanted to be a part of believers outwardly proclaiming their belief a mere 48 hours after brave men died for the same thing on a different continent. Because there is nothing like lifting a middle finger to evil when what you really want is to lift a middle finger to the world but you know that that is not the way to go. I wanted to be a part of that collective, to see a kind face, feel a practiced thumb on my forehead, and know my heart has a home. I just wanted the ashes.

And now Lent is here, but I don’t want to give up anything. I want more. I want more time, more sleep, more clean floors, more green grass and fresh air, more space to to be myself. I feel like a self-indulgent little pig, gulping and grasping at anything that looks like the peace I long for. Even if it isn’t. Even if the taste is bad and the smell sour to my thin-skinned heart. I have been eating it anyway and wanting more of it.

That is why I wanted the ashes. I crave simple right now and nothing is more simple than dirt on flesh. I think if I can just remember where I came from, I will remember how to keep going, keep slogging through this muck. I need some dirt to do that, some outward reminder of inward truth. I am ashes. But ashes come only from a fire. And I came from fire, from the One who loves and saves with wild abandon and amazing grace and burns brighter than the sun itself. 

Perhaps Lent will not require a Facebook-acknowledged and other-approved proclamation of what I am physically giving up. What I do or do not do is between me and the Lord. I’ve already missed a few days of Lent observation. I don’t think He minds, really. Perhaps I will only be asked to search deeper in, press in further and tighter, and let go of the glittery rush simply to embrace the remains of the fire and be made more fully aware of the fact that there was, there is, and there will be, a Fire. I am ashes, but I know from what I came.

HANDS HOLDING ASHES

Raw and brave and loud.

Sometimes a horrible thing makes you remember your own horrible thing and you find your mind digging into memories you’d much rather forget, and feelings best left buried. This happens to me on occasion. I don’t know if this is because my heart is learning a compassion that comes only with the passing of time, or if I am still healing bit by bit and the hurts must be squeezed out drop by drop, day by day, and filled with love instead. I don’t know.

What I do know is that my life and the living of it has presented some harrowing circumstances that swirl around mental illness. I know what I used to do to be silent. I also know what others have done to silence me.

I recently heard of an old friend’s mother’s attempt on her life, which made my memories of silence all too close and too hard. I saw the mother’s tight smile in an unexpected interaction, and I knew. I know the tightness of lips when one feels failed at life and then fails at death, too. It etches vile ruts in their faces, that tightness.

I have seen the look on my own mother’s face many times. I lost count of her attempts somewhere in my junior year of high school; I haven’t been able to keep up since.

I wish I didn’t know that look so well. But I do, and so when I see it, my heart breaks. And it breaks more when I see the faces of the loved ones around the hurting one. That ache, that unbearable ache of inadequacy and the inability to make it better. That hope that perhaps more love will draw someone back into life.

I wish I didn’t know the stigma of being a loved one of someone who succeeds at death unexpected. I was hit with this especially hard the night a student violently ended her days; afterward, those around me explained in no uncertain terms that no one should call it suicide. I wish I didn’t know the tears I held in my throat that night, aching for another family shamed into silence by a well-meaning community afraid of being raw.

I wish I didn’t know how a soldier who has returned home sleeps with a pistol and whiskey close at hand. I know that, too. I know how a sister falls to her knees in the middle of the night and prays hard for the tough nightmares to leave her brother because they have both lived the same hell years before and they are close enough that she knows in her heart something is terribly wrong. I know how the phone rings some twenty minutes into that anxious prayer and I know how tears fall when a brother tells you he is not okay. And every time I meet a soldier and I hear a bit of a war story, I remember that night.

I wish I didn’t know how an abusive and depressed and highly praised man can make depression and fear seep into every area of your life, and make you wary of any raised voice or hand. I wish my parents didn’t know how to worry about a daughter’s safety from two states away.  I think of this when I meet women in far more difficult and dangerous circumstances. I wish they didn’t know either.

I wish I didn’t know the enormous amount of shame that depression brings. Every time I meet a patient newly diagnosed with something I am slowly but surely clawing my way out of, I think of the brave day I walked into my physician’s office and explained with a tremble that I could not sleep at night and that the girl who rarely cried was sobbing without warning at any hour. I remember, too, the day I told the same physician that you are never sure of how deep you are in until you get out. I said that to him because I had cried with relief just that week when I heard my familiar quiet giggle bubble uninhibited from a place that had not allowed it to escape for many months. I see my patients and their aching hearts and I want to hug them and tell them it will be okay and they are not alone.

I wish I didn’t know these things. I really do. The past is the past and it is not my master by any means. Grace has paved the way for healing. But my story is still my story. And it still aches at times. I would be remiss to be silent about what I wish I didn’t know. Silent, though, is exactly what I have been.

I wish we weren’t silent. I wish we wouldn’t hear things like PTSD and depression and suicide and cringe inwardly and gossip in our fear.  I wish we were brave. I wish we were honest.  I wish we would take a deep breath and know that we are not alone and healing is possible. I wish we would offer a hand when someone hurting needs one. I wish we would listen. I wish we would tell our stories like they really are and in so doing, create space for individuals to find freedom in the honesty of struggle and to be rid of the shame unnecessarily heaped on aching hearts. I wish we weren’t so afraid of our own frailty, the failing of our own skins, the consequences of being honest in a world insistent on being false and good-looking on the outsides.

May we all be raw and brave and loud in the face of horrible things.

 

Hot tears.

Yesterday I had just had enough. The weariness that people have been warning me about for months finally set in during an unfortunate moment. Fourteen hours at two jobs is too much on a sane person. Add to that working seven days a week, serious illnesses of people I love, no time to simply share moments with someone else, and a holiday for which I am most unprepared…and you have a mess. Oh, I was a mess. I slumped over the counter after being cursed at by yet another patient, and I muttered a few choice words at the computer screen. I felt the hot tears coming on, those tears you can barely stop that are shed more out of frustration than sadness.

“Don’t cry, Dana. Don’t cry. Not right now. You just can’t.”

Hot tears are hard to blink away on your own. I made a comment to my colleague in the hopes she would laugh right then and I would not cry. She did laugh…and I did not cry. Amen. The chaos, both internal and external, continued on for a few more hours but I DID NOT CRY.

It wasn’t until I limped into my own doorway late last night that I recalled a prayer I have been trying to remember to keep close in my heart these days:

Today is Your day, Lord.
You are in the midst.
I submit all of my actions, words, and thoughts to You.
I choose love.
I choose joy.
I choose peace.
I choose patience.
I choose kindness.
I choose goodness.
I choose gentleness.
I choose faithfulness.
I choose self-control.

I get so much wrong these days. Everything feels like failure. And I want to run off in a southern direction every morning. I remember the last time I felt this heavy-hearted. All too well. I ran then, too, and it saved my life.

But I did not know the fullness and depth of the Lord’s love then. I do now. I want to live it, breathe it, wallow in it, and rest. I want to choose to serve this God who knows my story and uses my dark places to create welcome space for others with dark places and lets me listen to their hearts and know their stories and be human and frail with them.

I will not always be weary. This is what I needed to know last night in the midst of having had enough: each day is the Lord’s. And in each day, I get to choose how to live. I choose love. I am an absolute failure, a sorry sinner, a mess of a woman with a too-big heart and too-thin skin. I shed a lot of hot tears. I choose love. This day and every day. Amen.

Real strength is quiet.

Some people think that strength must be seen to be real. These sorts seek to be the loudest, the biggest, the most obtrusive, in any room. They point out their strength to others by making stories of hard times harder in the telling, by exerting authority over people when they have none, by manipulating situations, by being bullies in word and deed. If others are seen as less, then they are more, they are the MOST.

They are strong…and everyone must know it.

But real strength is not like this. Real strength does not exist to be noticed. It exists because it must, because ordinary people are put through extraordinary events and they choose to not let the hard kill them.

Real strength is in the daddy who toils away long hours to put food in bellies.

Real strength is in the friend who holds your hand while you cry and doesn’t feel the need to say anything because some pain must be acknowledged to be healed.

Real strength is in the mama who says goodbye to her baby on the same day she ushered him in to the world.

Real strength is in the honest sinner/saint unafraid to tell his story, uninterested in impressing anyone with it.

Strength, the real kind, is not an act. It is not something to strive toward nor something the very strong think on much, if at all. Strength is lived out in a life that does not seek self-serving, eye-catching, people-pleasing feats, but seeks to walk valiantly in the mundane, fighting unseen battles without an army.

Real strength is quiet. Subtle. Whisper-like.

 manos-viejo-flor