Thursday, November 29, 2012

Loss and found

He is gone

The subject line in my friend’s email revealed her father’s passing after lingering weeks of poor health. Her words snatched my breath and swelled in my throat. Two friends, two daughters, two fathers, two farewells, too much. Each of us lost our father within weeks of one other. My disquieted heart leaked out wet, wet, sorrow.

My husband drove; I was content at being his passenger. These long drives often prompted me to call my dad and visit while we clicked off miles. The road ahead appeared blank. The other end of the phone would be blank too. The endless roadside scenery scrolled by as I wiped away snivelly streams from my lip with the back of my hand before any streaks of guilt oozed down my front.

My brother spoke accurately of our father at his funeral: “He never gave up.” More than 50 years after experiencing frozen feet in the Korean War, Dad pursued his case over several years with the Veterans Administration. A few years ago, he was finally awarded 100% retroactive benefits. And he continued to help other veterans submit their paperwork for benefits as well.  Whether it was contending with the VA, enduring dialysis for 7 years, or advising his family, he was unyielding. Perhaps little Irvy, sandwiched in between 6 other siblings, had to be more persistent to be noticed. Childhood patterns can stick to us like pink Bazooka bubbles that splatter all over our face when overblown.

Not unlike my dad’s childhood, my childhood included lots of popped bubbles and many sticky gum faces. Unfortunately old gum can last a lifetime and be passed on to the next generation. I’ve been intentionally picking away at ugly, stubborn gum bits over the years. The counselor and I agreed that the gum was gone. A welcome removal…a welcome relief.  And then my dad was gone too. A tearful loss…a tearful farewell.

I remember well my last conversation with my dad across 2500 miles. My dad told of all things on his mind; I listened. Nothing was out of the ordinary. “Did Adam find a job yet? He needs to contact that boat company in Green Bay. They make big boats there; I know they need designers.”

 “I mentioned this to Adam, Dad.”

“You gotta make him do it.”

Outside, the low September sun cast long shadows across the landscape.

“So, how’s Aric doing? He hasn’t called me.”  

The soothing shadows of Fall invited harmony, harvest, reflection, and connection. My father’s opinions, insistence, and boast could sometimes overshadow the sentiments of my seasons.  Through the phone, across the miles, over the years, my father did not seem to know anything about my Falls. Nor did he know of my efforts to grieve losses in childhood, to grow out of assuming responsibility for rescuing those I love, and to practice directness with him.

Like bruised, immature fruit falling not far from the tree, my response was direct, albeit defensive: “Dad, they are adult men with their own families. I don’t parent them anymore. I don’t pressure them into doing something, and I don’t want to guilt them to do it either.”  I had shielded my adult sons from their Grandpa’s emphatic insistence…in the same way I had often shielded myself from my dad’s indisputable assertions.

But then I heard what I don’t recall ever having heard from my dad before. His five-word response bridged the vast distance between Florida and Nevada. My ears—and my soul—seized my dad’s five words from the maze of airwaves. With imperceptible humility, he slowly articulated each syllable, “It –was–just–a–sug–ges–tion.”

My dad’s five words were his final gift to me. He heard me…therefore he cared. He acknowledged me…therefore he loved. For too long, the unsightly remnants of gum had become the distorted filter through which I had viewed my past, my dad, others, and myself. My dad’s simple response unleashed stores of good memories that had been shoved to the back while I had been focusing on old gum. As I accepted good and gum together, my heart heaved a sigh…and I sucked in fresh Fall air.

“When are you coming to visit?”

“We’ll see you in November around Thanksgiving; we’re coming to Florida for two weeks this time, Dad. We’ll have more time to visit in person.”

I saw him in late September instead. He was no longer worrying about his children, his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren. Even though he was silent with eyes closed, I was reassured of the love of my father. My father and I are at peace. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Pink One

The fragments were always there at the intersection of turbulent churning and terra firma. Either I had not known they were there, or I was too distracted to see them over the years.

My happy friend showed me how to spot them. Rhonda is fun and observant; I was eager to find what she had already discovered. There’s one! A little larger than a dried pea but a special find none-the-less. There’s another! A blue one. And another, this one translucent white. We kept moving forward, intentionally searching along the way. A brown one…another brown one. Aahh, a creamy green one.

As waves retreated back into the ocean, we found remnants from discarded bottles broken into little pieces at water’s edge. I tentatively  reached for them in the same way I retracted from painfully, sharp fragments from abandonment, from abortion, from judging at a distance, from missed opportunities of loving with abandon, from storms in life. Broken fragments can hurt. However these battered, glass fragments had now become sought-after treasures.

This intersection of tumbling waves and grinding sand is where cutting glass has lost its painful edges. No longer sharp and threatening, each broken bit of glass had been abraded and honed over time. I rolled the worn fragment between my fingertips. Small, smoothed treasures from hurtful brokenness…I searched for more reminders of transformation.

I don’t do collections. Well, I do have several shells but most of them came from a deceased uncle. I retrieved his shells from the trash after the purging of his house. But beach glass…collecting tidbits of redeemed time was compelling. Before long, each one of us had collected a palm-full of time and tide-honed fragments of beach glass.

Each ‘stone’ has an irregular shape, some lackluster, and many so small they could be insignificant. Only a few were rejected...the unfinished ones. One piece, in particular, was identifiable as part of  a bottle neck, still with sharp, cutting edges that could draw blood and damage. I hesitated holding onto it before finding a trash bin. Instead I heaved it out into the depths of the sea. Over time the movement of the ocean’s dynamic forces would toss it ashore again. And together, the water and sand would refine this bottle neck into a new, redeemed form. Beach glass…exposed, valued, worth-keeping and treasured. My just-enough collection is contained in a small decorative bowl in my kitchen where I notice the worn bits many times a day.

On my last birthday, I walked the beach alone listening to the final chapters of The Help downloaded onto my iPhone. My new friends, Eugenia, Aibeleen, Minny and Celia walked with me sharing their stories through my earbuds. Those women have been broken too…like beach glass, like me. Change has no color consideration and is basically the same: rejection, storm surges, brokenness, grinding, weathering, honing, transformation, humbling, change, rediscovery. Their story ended as I finished the audio book. My heart was so full it spilled over onto my wet cheeks. But my steps kept going, as did my thoughts.

I imagine Aibeleen and friends chattering in the distance, across the horizon near the sunset. All I can make out is Aibe’s voice: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Her words stick to my skin like grains of beach sand. I don’t want to brush them off.

As I walked towards the sunset, the sun’s lowered rays reflect back something at water’s edge. For me, the birthday girl? I wait for the next ripple of wave to pass and watch for the shaft’s reflection. And then I saw what it was…a pink one! I didn’t even know that pink beach glass existed, and for that matter, that I would be the one to find such a rare gift. It was almost as if my journey had lead me directly to it. I stooped low to receive my perfected piece of pink.

That day I discovered a personal treasure….unique, fearfully and wonderfully made, and intrinsically valued. I was so excited to share my find, I returned home to patient husband with a pink blessing in my palm and in my soul. And, I continue to notice grains of beach sand in my car, in my shoes, at the bottom of my purse, in my pockets, and in my bowl where my collection of beach glass resides. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Under the surface

Packing for a week on a sailboat in Belize was a straightforward task: bathing suits, cover-ups, a couple of shorts and tank tops, one sundress and flip-flops. Nothing complicated; nothing encumbering.

I love warm water and could flipper over the surface oogling coral, starfish, stingrays and barracuda from above. But what was deep below the surface and down into the unknown threatened me, kind of like engulfing emotions I tend to reject.

Three men from our group posed for a picture with the beginning Scuba instructor. Stepping out of the frame, I resolved to myself, “Uh-uh, not me, no way.” No one wheedled at my decision, which was another relief. And the photo captured their anticipation for the next day’s dive lesson.

Laura, the female instructor in her late twenties, reassured the men that she had been on more than 5,000 dives. “Where would you like to go but have not dived there yet?” I questioned daring to dip my toe in her ocean of intrigue. 

“I really don’t have a bucket list of places yet to dive. However, I do want to see new underwater life that I know from pictures but have not yet experienced. Just the other day, I saw my first manta ray.” Laura’s passion to experience ocean life pinged me like an errant pebble strikes a windshield.

That evening I snuggled into our boat bunk comfortably reading while all my excuses not to Scuba drifted by on the waves outside. However, as I read, another stray object struck the exact same spot on the windshield through which I narrowly viewed life, and a small crack started. I read about two blind men responding to Jesus’ inquiry into what they wanted of Him: “Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.” ‘Open’  got my attention; that has been my word, my passion and my request for the year. Could this Scuba lesson be an invitation for me? Was the crack allowing me to be open to look beyond my limited view…and face the fears, the emotions, and the insecurities that lurk underneath the surface of my life?
Who would have suspected that a tiny crack would let in a whole ocean?
The next day I squeezed into a full-body Lycra suit for our beginning Scuba lesson with Laura and the three guys from our group. We tightened our vests, weighted our belts, tanked our backs, finned our feet, and masked our faces. This outfitted character was most foreign to me. I wanted to bolt. Somehow my flippers kept me planted while Laura provided truth through precise instruction and grace through our trial-and-error exercises in waist deep water.

“Buoyancy is critical, explained Laura. “The ideal is to find that place in the depths where you are not sinking to the bottom nor escaping up to the surface. You are simply suspended underwater.” The tight Lycra bound my racing heartbeat and me together as I fingered the buttons trying to remember which one inflated and which one deflated my buoyancy vest.
Going deeper was painful.
We were to swim on the surface to the dive flag several yards away. The extra weight pulled me down; I gasped for strength. I wasn’t sure if I could make it to the flag. Laura recognized my labored efforts. She reminded all of us that inflating our vests would create buoyancy and allow us to swim effortlessly along the surface. And to think that I could power to the destination with an additional burden of diver’s weights and tank simply by inflating my vest! How many other times in my life do I sink under everyday burdens when all I need to do is to remember to engage an extra source of support?

At the flag together, we were to deflate our vests and descend to fifteen feet. I concentrated on slowing my breaths, and down I went with the others. But the pressure inside my ears was excruciating. I shot up out of the water to stop the pain. This escape to avoid the pain was somehow familiar. Having been coached earlier to stay together, Laura rose after me along with the other men. My confidence felt just as wounded as my eardrums. And I hoped no one could detect tears inside my mask. Laura and each one of the men joined in to explain and demonstrate the right way to clear one’s ears. Collectively I heard a good solution,  “Pinch your nose, capture your breath and try to push it out your ears.”

Before attempting the next descent, I fought to pinch off the trepidation, recapture some confidence and push through giving up. I became intentional about clearing my ears at intervals as we descended to more than thirty feet during the dive.
Buoyancy ­– the power to recover emotionally, like resiliency.
Buoyancy is critical, I repeated to myself. The buttons that deflated and inflated my vest still confused me. Yet I was committed to making the adjustments to my flotation vest to achieve that place of gentle suspension. While Laura smoothly traced the descent of the ocean floor, I bobbed up and down behind her. And I was okay.

Even with the extra heaviness and pressure, this journey that went deep—to the bottom, in fact—released something in me. I watched free-floating bubbles from my breathing apparatus drift upwards as I began to surface in our ascent to the flag.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The other side

The challenge was to find, comfort and restore the playful, yet smart, young girl. Tucked away in a forgotten envelope of childhood pictures, I found her…a small, lone photo from sixth grade more than forty years ago. Her deep brown eyes caught my attention as did her toothy smile. I recalled the scrawny, eleven-year-old girl with loose strands of hair tucked behind her ears scampering home from school in the humid Florida heat. Her home’s front door with louvered window slats rattled as she jimmied the loose knob to get in.

Reopening that faulty louvered door into my childhood was risky to say the least. I had to step back in time to revisit the young Julie who told herself she was unlovable and not worth enough to stay around before the adult Julie could refute such untruths. I slipped on those scruffy black flats that I used to wear with anklets and tentatively pushed the door open.

We were surprised to see our dad already at home from the brewery. “I’ve got something to tell you kids when the rest of you get home,” he said as he turned his face away from us. My two brothers and I tossed our school notebooks on the dresser, plopping onto the beds and wiggling out of our sweaty shoes and socks. Squeaky bed springs and dad’s agitated pacing reverberated through the house. Our eggshell silence withheld our unexpressed emotions: “What’s up with dad? And where’s mom, anyway?”

All of us were lined up in the only room large enough to accommodate five confused siblings side-by-side with our father facing us. “Your mother left, she’s gone; she blankety-duh-blankety took off today and blah-duh-blah-duh-blah.” His bitterness, anger, and resentment spewed out into our little house, all over our mom’s name, and all over us like disgusting sludge.

Yet I squeaked out my selfish question anyway, “But when will she be home?”

“She doesn’t love you…she left with him,” his spittle blasted the dust particles floating through the shafts of afternoon sunlight. Too much anger, too many secrets revealed, too many losses and changes, too much for the young girl in the photo. No one asked anymore questions. No one confided. I closed the door behind me and went outside to climb the limbs up into the leafy loquat tree.

Daring to surrender to my word for this year—open—I’ve climbed down from the safety of my loquat tree. Opening myself up to my childhood was much like confronting the turbulent stream I encountered on a recent hike. The chaotic waters churned up unaddressed fears and trauma. Its constant thrusting current threatened to engulf. Too much, too much. The frigid cold could suck my last gasps for breath. And the speed would sweep me over the rocks and into the abyss.

Encouraging husband—who loves me and thinks I’m worth it— beckoned from the other side. One had to commit to non-stop fording this emotional flood for the momentum required to make it to the other side. No stopping midway or else I would be stuck in the middle of surrounding turbulence…immobilized from going forward or backward. Stuck in avoidance or stuck in turbulence, I wanted neither anymore.

After much trepidation, I lurched onto the first bridging log, then onto a boulder, then touching over a stepping stone, and finally hurdling forward onto the other side.

An exhale and a smile rushed to surface on the other side. Dr. Henry Cloud simply describes such risk events in his book, Integrity: “ The good [risk-takers] learn something and grow to a point where what they are doing can no longer contain all that they have become. So, they just step out and take the next step. Growth is like that. “  

On the other side, I began hiking the wooded trail away from long-embedded thought patterns. I marveled at the Giant Sequoia trees…not a loquat tree in sight. Such trees live long and strong withstanding fire, drought and harsh winters. Yet their cones do not reproduce and yield new growth unless the trauma of fire forces open the cone containing the seed. Life’s traumas are not wasted; they are redeemed by forcing out seeds for new growth…by forcing new steps leading to new growth.

“People work on themselves, and then they express what they are learning in a further step,” Dr. Cloud affirms. “When they do that, they become more. Then, as a result of taking that risk, new growth happens.“

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Growing into my clothes

I thought that I had finally dismissed wanting to be someone else. I now know that we don’t get to become someone we were not originally designed to be. But there is something about my friend, Amy. Amy is vibrant, fun-loving, spontaneous, adventuresome, and friendly. We are different. I wish I was more like Amy; I like the way Amy dresses…it’s so Amy. In a vulnerable moment, I opened up with my friend, “You make it seem so effortless. Your clothes say who you are. How do you do it?”

Did I honestly want the real Julie to show? Too many times I have labored through clothing choices like an acne-faced teenager having to go to school anyway. Choosing outfits had somehow become finding the right cover-up for shameful blemishes. Should the outfit be ill-fitting, then I would reveal my own discomfort in a crowd of peers or strangers. If the outfit was lacking, others could not help but notice my own deficiencies. Should the outfit be out-of-place for the occasion, I could draw attention to my insecurities. Or, should the outfit be too ostentatious, I could be posing as something I have no business pretending to be. What to wear has been a struggle for a long time…until I dared to ask one of the many Amy’s I have known throughout the years.

I don’t know exactly when some of those blemishes had faded. I only know that the day that Amy shared her private tip with me was when I no longer needed as much cover-up. My conversation with Amy that day surfaced unfamiliar feelings. Is acceptance a feeling? I knew I didn’t want to be Amy; I want to be Julie.

“I use pictures,” Amy shared. “I cut out pictures of outfits I like from catalogues and magazines. I tape them up in my closet and use them as inspiration for creating outfits with the clothes I already have. And then I know exactly what to buy when I go shopping…the missing piece from the picture.” She radiated just like her aqua bathing suit with flashy cover-up.

Amy’s private tip encouraged me to choose sample pictures that reflected my own style and comfort. I could do that: Use the pictures of dressed models for inspiration and then personalize it. Mine my closet for what I already have. Where was I when I missed learning these basics?…probably in front of a mirror focusing on my blemishes.

Recently I packed for a week-long conference. I felt like an uninhibited child choosing outfits. The smiling women in my closet whispered, “Good choice, Julie.” Some were holding hands with children, some were walking in the park and some were smiling back at me. All affirmed me, “That looks like you, Julie.”

I flew to my conference having packed five ensembles approved by the voices in my closet. Having my clothes already organized, I was free to concentrate on the topic of the conference….dealing with obstacles that hinder personal growth, effectiveness and success. However, I discovered that I was not fully out of the closet when a well-known author, who was one of the conference instructors, happened to catch a piece of my conversation about my newfound freedom. I suspected he was hoping to hear about a recent breakthrough or insight gleaned from my participation in his program.

Embarrassed and flustered, I rambled on about my theory of adult Garanimals using catalogue pictures and matching coordinating pieces of clothing. “You know, the children’s brand of clothing that helps children grow in confidence by matching Hippo-labeled shirts to hippo-labeled shorts, or giraffe-labeled shirts to giraffe-labeled pants?” Confusion rippled across his forehead.

So what did I do?...kept talking. “I would like to at least have my exterior appear pulled together—even if what’s inside of me is still kind of unsettled."

This kind of statement, especially from a babbling, Garanimal theorist, would perk any counselor’s intuition: “You know what that means, don’t you?”

“Uh, I guess I’m using this whole Garanimal thing as a tool to relieve the stress about packing and dressing…” Still babbling, “Okay, so the outfits are a coping mechanism right now.” And it hit me that I wasn’t hiding behind my clothes anymore but becoming what the ladies in the closet already knew….I was growing into my clothes. “That’s why I’m here…to grow.”

To which he astutely replied: “Coping mechanisms are good…for awhile.”

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Breathing lessons

Sailing has been an undeniable family adventure for more than thirty-five years. Angling through waves, surfing swells with dolphin, hearing the voluminous gush before spotting the spouting behemoth, diving into the warm sun-streaked waters, lulling into slumber at anchor….STOP! Who really believes that stuff?

When the ocean churns turbulent green, so do I. Traditionally, I have invoked seasickness as the perfect excuse to avoid the nautical threats outside my comfort zone, the discomforts of weather and sea conditions, the expanse of the open ocean, and well, just going green while being trapped aboard until terra firma is reached. For me, sailing, not unlike confronting fears, is about breathing deeply…inhaling fresh wind and freedom and exhaling overwhelming motion and e-motion.

One time the fog engulfed us as we were heading back to the marina. We couldn’t see more than five feet around us. While opagueness engulfed us, different-sized foghorns blasted from vessels about us. Our modest chartered sailboat was not equipped with radar, only a broken foghorn. We were a silent and indefensible target out in the open. Kids and I as crew spaced ourselves around the boat on lookout while sailor husband navigated and worked to repair our foghorn. “Whale!” shouted voices from a very close boat. We saw its fluke and felt its wake as we steered past the splash and the other boat. Through the fog, beyond the green, the wide open yielded the wonder of a whale sighting. Breathe in family, exhale resistance.

Sailing, the ocean, and venturing out into the open—from behind walls, from underneath guilt, from within captivity and through fears—challenges my excuses, and my pattern of self-protection. The words of a fellow struggler, an author, push back: “here-time asks me to do the hardest of all: just open wide and receive.” I lingered long in the motionless, soothing safety of a soak tub. Warmth and peace blanketed me like the foamy bubbles. Receive…the word drifts from mind to open fingertips as I lay suspended, arms floating still, palms up. What was I open to receive? Inhale...exhale…inhale…exhale.

Pondering an invitation to reconnect with a friend from the past, I walked the beach looking out over the horizon of endless ocean. The ebb and flow of swells undulated through the depths forming the waves that tumbled into shore at me. What was she wanting of me? I pulled back from the surf’s intrusion like I retreated from my friend’s invitation to meet. Later, lunch with my friend from the past was simply an open heart-connection between two women having traveled similar paths. Breathe in acceptance, exhale judgment.

Not too long ago, my husband-captain and I set sail to Santa Cruz Island off the coast of Southern California. The winds were pleasantly brisk. By the time we were more than halfway to the island, the wind and waves were beating against us. And everything went green. I lay down in the cockpit staving off the greenness and contempt for sailing, the weather, the ocean, the captain, and myself for choosing to be out in the open. The howling wind and tumultuous swells continued into the night while at anchor…as did my nausea. Choose to inhale peace; choose to exhale helplessness.

The next morning was crisp, clear and breath-less. My husband-captain brought me hot tea in bed and we stayed under the covers reading until the sun warmed the air. On our return, I stretched out on the cockpit cushion in the warmth of sunshine avoiding the wafting smell of diesel (which also makes me green). My husband set our course, adjusted the mainsail, tweaked the autopilot…while I purred like a cat in her favorite sun-lit spot. I awoke to a caring captain asking me what I’d like to drink with my lunch. Breathe in love, exhale captivity.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Into the open

My word for 2012 began to expose itself to the light weeks before the end of last year’s journey through willing (my word for 2011). The depths, the exposure, the risk, the journey reminded me of our explorations into lava tubes in Northern California years ago. An intense event in nature long ago had formed pathways, hollow tubes throughout the molten lava that hardened into a network of interwoven tunnels. Dark, enclosed, meandering paths beneath the surface. One could easily lose one’s bearings and get lost within the darkness. My husband the miner tied ropes for us to stretch out as we journeyed deep into the tubes. We could tolerate the risk of going deeper because we knew we would be able to get back to where we had begun. When we ran out of rope, we turned and followed the path out of the depths, out of darkness and into the open again.

As I approached 2012, residual feelings of confined spaces and directionless darkness still lingered. And I was intimately aware that I have stayed hidden in the shadows behind walls…from God, from my husband, my family, and from life.

It was in the darkness of the night as a little girl that I first started to hide…from the wounds imposed on me and the humiliation that kept lurking after me. Then I would hide away reading stories not meant for childhood eyes to read. Shame stuck to me like a stubborn price tag that wouldn’t peel off. Sticky note to self: I am bad.

Sometimes, though, I forgot about my favorite hiding spot under the back porch or high in the branches of the Japanese plum tree. And I ventured out into play with the neighborhood kids. I wasn’t hiding when my mother left home. I walked home from sixth grade and she was gone. Never to be caught exposed and vulnerable again, I knew I needed a better hiding place…one that I could take with me and was accessible anytime, anywhere. It was then that I began building the walls around my heart. Sticky note on heart: I am not worth loving.

I felt safe outside my walls when I met my husband more than 36 years ago. I was happy and blessed when our first baby boy arrived. Another son arrived three years later. We were laughing and playing outside my walls when we moved (again), lost our jobs and found out we were pregnant. I mistakenly chose abortion. Sticky note on my wall: I make bad decisions.

Over the years my walls have grown familiar and somewhat comfortable to perch atop. I don’t stray too far beyond my walls. So, less than two years ago, when my husband told me about his sexual integrity issues, I could simply forgive and retreat within the safety of my walls. Sticky note on marriage: I do not speak up when I am hurt.

I went to a Women in the Battle weekend last year because I was stuck all over with sticky notes. I didn’t know why I had no motivation, no joy and no insight from God. Arriving an hour early, I sat alone inside the walls of my vehicle in the hotel parking lot mindlessly checking emails, catching up on Words with Friends, and playing Solitaire on my iPhone.

The next morning—after a full day of teaching and group sessions—I found myself thinking about a man named Lazarus. I found his story in the Bible and read: So the sisters sent word to Him [Jesus] saying, “Lord, behold, he [Lazarus] whom you love is sick.” My lack of motivation and joy felt like I was sick too. Maybe the women in my group—my new sisters—had seen my own ‘sickness’ and petitioned to Jesus on my behalf.

I read more. But when Jesus heard this, He said. “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it. But Lazarus had been dead for four days. Martha lamented that Jesus had not arrived sooner to save her brother.

I needed to read more. So, Jesus again being deeply moved, came to the tomb. Jesus must have cared deeply about Martha and Lazarus; I pondered if He could care so much about me. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” New sticky note: Jesus cares. Jesus can remove walls.

So they removed the stone. Then Jesus said: “Father, I thank You that You have heard me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe You sent Me. Replacement sticky note: If I stay hidden behind my walls, I miss out on God’s goodness for me, and to others. And if I do not speak up, I have missed an opportunity for others to believe…how much we are loved, so that we can love others unconditionally. How much we are forgiven, so that we can forgive when it is undeserved. How much sorrow is redeemed, so that we can freely reveal God’s mercies through our stories.

And when Jesus had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, (that seemed to read) “Julie, come forth.

Beckoned from the shadows, from behind walls, I have been released into the OPEN…my new journey for 2012. The call back to life and into the open was not only for Lazarus, nor just for me (although I felt that way), but is for all of us.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

One Word Challenge!!

A new year means one new word. This is my fifth year of choosing just one word that will be my focus—and my challenge—for the year. My reflection of past words is much more uplifting than my reflection in the mirror lately. Though face and skin can weaken with accumulated years, my heart seems to gain vibrancy and resolve as each new word unfolds throughout the year. The mirror reveals a progression of age, but my words…they reveal a progression of the soul.

In my eagerness to select my first word five years ago, my first word was more of a romanticized goal. Embolden…even the word sounded captivating and melodic. I recall several decisions that year where I forged ahead to be emboldened, rather than allowing God’s plan for me. It is not unusual for one word to stretch beyond its definition. My embolden also included several lessons in humility.

My subsequent words have revealed a shift from the word being my idea to realizing that God has an idea for me. Already I have noticed that God’s plan for me has been to move me away from that place of needing to keep myself protected behind walls and from needing to ‘fix’ others. My words have opened wide the door to receive God’s grace and then to extend grace to others.

The one word challenge is very different from making resolutions to achieve or setting goals to be met. A focus word is simply an invitation for God to work out His unique plan for you. This one word serves as a reference point for the next 12 months. Without obsessing about the word or His plan, you simply allow the word to creatively surface. And pretty soon, you naturally begin to notice how God is intimately working in and through your life.

If you want a year infused with focus, unconditional love and life-changing power of a Master Designer, I challenge you to begin this new year with hope…and with one focus word. Should choosing a focus word be new to you, here are some helpful suggestions in selecting your unique word for the year:

Step 1: First and foremost, pray for God’s revelation of a word for you. Be honest about where you are currently in your journey of faith. Consider where God may be guiding you to move forward in faith while taking into account the desires God may have cultivated within you.

Step 2: Keep a running list of words as they come to mind. When you add a new word, see if there are any others you can eliminate.

Step 3: Pick a word and reflect on it for a few days, until you work through all the words on your list. Be sensitive to how God might be highlighting one word over another…just for you. Then choose a word!

Step 4: Share your word with others. They will want to hear what your word means to you, and how you landed on its selection. (I am always blessed by hearing which word others have chosen!!)

Step 5: Be alert to how your word will unfold throughout the weeks…and how it spreads through your life.

This year I am also encouraging those who choose a word to adopt an anchor verse to accompany your word. You can utilize the same method of finding a word to land on your verse as well.

My word for the year? I’ll let you know next time…

Some previous words from others…

I have my word, actually I have had it for quite some time, but as always, I just wanted to be sure. My word is EXCELLENCE. I've been constantly reminded that God is a God of excellence and of order. He doesn't just do things halfway and expects the same from us no matter if that means leading a bible study or folding laundry. We should do everything we do with excellence and glorify Him in even the most mundane tasks. Excellence also refers to doing things in love as Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 12:31 in his introduction to his beautiful description of love in chapter 13.

It just came to me, my word for 2011 is…FAITH. ~Lisa

Well, I have been praying and reflecting and though I considered several words, today I have made my selection. The first word that was given to me was THANKSGIVING but it just didn't feel right. I moved onto GRATITUDE and stayed with that word for a few weeks but again, it didn't feel like my word. I tried on several other words, THANKFULNESS, PRAISE and even HALLELUJAH but nothing seemed to stick. Last night as I prepared for my small group study, I heard the story of the Prodigal Son told again. As I listened to the story, a voice inside my head kept telling me, "Neither son was content with what they had." Maybe the word I am looking for was CONTENTMENT. The next morning I clicked on a random issue of a digital magazine—November 2010—and blam, there was my focus word, GRATEFUL, staring me in the face. I am still waiting for an anchor verse but that too will be revealed in its own time. ~Lee-Ann

Here is my word – STILL! It was revealed to me on 12/29 so I have been living with it for a little while and I STILL love it. It inspires me and helps me prioritize and gives me peace (well really the peace is from God but the focus word helps me tap into it). God’s timing is perfect and I am learning to be STILL, wait and trust! ~Karla

I'll spare you the background on my word for 2011, but it is ENOUGH. I'm so eager to see where this year will take me, what my word will come to mean, and how the Lord will transform my heart over the next year... maybe He'll even let my choice for a word (something I always struggle to decide on) be ENOUGH. ~Jamie

I’m not totally set because the word sometimes implies inaction, like just resigning yourself —ACCEPTING—a crappy situation and that’s not what I want. So looking for a more positive spin on the same idea. I’m thinking that I need to be more ACCEPTING of things that I cannot change (my relationship status, my genes, my ex-husband, etc.) Closely related to gaining more patience. Also more ACCEPTING of people as they are, ACCEPTING my children as the individuals that they are and focus on working with their personalities rather than wishing they were different. Also goes with allowing others to do things for me without feeling guilty. It doesn’t seem exactly right so I’m still searching. ~Carol

I am actually having trouble with my word this year. You know I usually have more than one but so far HUMBLE has been the only one that keeps reappearing. How is that for a tough word?! I kept trying to give it back, does not seem to have worked. Will let you know how it goes. ~Tami

This year is full of POSSIBILITIES. ~Kristie