Grandpa IS in Heaven

by JenJ

On a Sunday not long ago, a friend and I were having a deep theological discussion. She told me she wasn’t sure I was saved because even though we shared the same basic beliefs about Jesus and the resurrection, our practices were different. Five days later my grandfather, a wonderful Christian man, passed away.

My grandpa Wally was an awesome man. He loved BIG.

He was friendly and helpful and silly, as the best grandfathers are. He loved his wife and his children and all of his grandchildren and their children, too. He was a boisterous man, fiercely loyal and a Swede, through and through. He was a business owner who always had time for fun. But most of all he was a great man of faith.

Grandpa Wally loved leading people to the Lord and in his later years, when his memory diminished, he still remembered the words to hymn after hymn. He loved Jesus and felt strongly about creating a family who knew that same love. He knew the Lord intimately and set an example for us all to follow.

When he was a young man, my grandfather’s family began attending the (then) Swedish Evangelical Free Church. Years later, he and my grandmother were married there. He and Grandma began their family and when they heard about the construction of Disneyland, they moved their small family down south to find work. They were instrumental in planting churches in this part of the state and finally settled on a church home where they would raise their family. And it was more than just a Sunday morning place of worship…it was a place of deep fellowship and connection. If I happen to visit that church today, I can be recognized by old timers, just by the fact that I look like a Johnson kid. Grandpa’s faith flourished there. He taught, he learned, he invited others, he watched some of his children marry there. But his faith wasn’t about that building or that church. His faith was a true relationship with the Lord. My grandparents lived next door when I was growing up and I can remember letting myself into the house and seeing his Bible out on a table near the sofa. He spent time with God regularly…he called him a friend. And he loved seeing that faith grow in all of us, too. He came to baby dedications and baptisms and loved knowing when we were off learning and experiencing fun things at church camp. He prayed over dinners at family gatherings until his mind began to falter, but I’ll never forget that he started each one with, “Heavenly Father, again we thank thee…”

It’s ironic, I suppose, that I had that conversation with my friend just before his passing. I felt ill-equipped to describe our doctrinal differences and why I think a lot of those disagreements just don’t matter. For a few days, I read books, did some online research, emailed and voxed friends who grew up in denominations different than mine. But I kept returning to Jesus…Jesus and our relationship with him is all that matters. And my grandpa probably say the same thing…

I have full and complete confidence that he’s resting in glory with our Savior right now. It was his profound belief that Jesus was his Savior and commitment to walking in His ways that makes it so, not denomination or doctrine.

That’s his story and that’s my story
and I know this to be true.

Do you have the same confidence? If not, my friends at A Deeper Story and I would love to talk to you more about it.

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When Christian Women Cheat or Kinda Sorta Want To

by Grace

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It’s hard to write this, I’ll admit it.  I wrote an article about, um, yeah, cheating that was recently published in the book, Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank about Faith.  We wanted to answer the question: what happens when young Christian women speak the unspeakable about our experiences in faith?  We all hoped to move past, push deeper than the typical Christian women talking points.

Christians women can go on ALL DAY about godly submission but what about how God feels about divorce, about gay Christian women getting married or Christian couples choosing (and loving) their choice not to procreate? Also? Christian women are a leeeeeeeeeettle slow to touch on our own lust issues, our own porn battles and when we cheat…or least kinda sorta want to.

So I took that one on.  Honestly,  I wrote it for the broken woman.   Because, solidarity.

I wrote about being an attempted cheater.  I put it out there not as a one-time wow-factor story. No, no, no, no, no.  Here’s the thing: this IS my struggle.  This IS my ongoing shame.  This IS what the Devil has used for the entirety of my life to push, shove & TKO my ass.

////

Three days after I decided to accept Jesus into my life, Jesus met me right in the middle of a sordid sexual encounter.  When Jesus said, “you don’t have to be this anymore, you don’t have to do this anymore,” I heard & believed.  I believed it was true enough that I let go of that man and I pursued a life of complete sexual purity until I married.

For a long time, I believed that Jesus could keep me.  Until one day I realized I didn’t believe that anymore.

I believed it until again the Devil came back waving that particular carrot right in front of my face, reminding me, “you, Grace have no worth outside of your sexuality.  You remember that you good-for-nothing, hoodrat, hoochie.”

“Okay,” I sigh. “I’ll remember that.” I’m too tired to argue with the Devil today. And I’m tired for tomorrow too.

The truth breaks in momentarily, weekly, monthly, annually.

Somewhere in between, random men tear it down with the flick of a wand and the lies flow back in like a river pent-up under a crusty damn.

I rehearse:  I am good for nothing outside of my sexuality. I am good for nothing outside of my sexuality.  I am good for nothing.  Grace, you are no good.  Come hither men, for I have the sex demons.

////

“Remember the post you wrote about Jesus and the, ya know, blow job?” Marla says.

“Remember Jesus told you you don’t have to do this any more, be this anymore?”

“Remember that your Dad was a serial cheater, your Dad was an abuser but YOU are not a serial cheater, YOU are NOT an abuser?” She asks.

“You are the redeemed of the LORD, Grace.  It’s your fricking blog tag line!” She says.

“Do you remember?  Do you remember?” she says with 15 pleading eyes.

I sigh.  Oh yeah, my blog. I’m such a fraud.

But, I AM the redeemed of the Lord, I try to remember. I mean, right? That’s still true right? I suck up a deep breath, WILL myself to believe it.  Do I still believe God can and will keep me?  It seems like I should, after all I WROTE IT IN THAT BOOK.

The Devil breaks through that resolve yet it still sounds a lot like me, “what point is there in trying to do the right thing? Get what you NEED, Baby Girl.  Ain’t nobody else lookin’ out for you.  NOBODY.”

Around and around and around we go.

////

I am still struggling. Seriously?

Jesus is fighting for me.  My friends are laboring in prayer for me.  I am trying to fight for me.  The Devil is fighting for me.  My husband is fighting for me. Hell, even my blog readers are fighting for me.  Everyone has a dog in the fight it seems.

Marla, Cindy, Jess, Patrice, Tia, Michelle, my Godfather, Jean, God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, the Devil and I are wrestling in this SAME conversation, this same battle every hour, every day for three months straight. I am exhausted.  I’m in too deep. My counselor rattles off “PTSD” as if it’s no biggie.  This is surely beyond what I can handle.  I read the Enneagram book.  I look for clues to handle my particular psychosis.

I google it: “effects on severely sexually abused children in adulthood.” It’s not that I haven’t read all this before.  It’s not that I haven’t  invested thousands of dollars and hours in therapy over the course of 14+ years.  It’s that I am searching for anything to remind me I am not alone and maybe even still a normal person with normal problems given the deck of cards I was dealt.  Maybe something will change my mind.  Maybe the internet will drown out the Devil a little more.  Hell, at this point, I’d beg, borrow, steal or pay for hope.

I see something I’ve never seen before.  Or, maybe the Holy Spirit has bolded & italicized it for my brain because it stands out:  Apparently, children severely sexually abused pre-puberty often never recover.  Never as in never-ever.  Or, to put it in SOBER numbers: only 10% are able to live in healthy, committed relationships or enjoy a relatively healthy relationship to their sexuality…the rest of us are full on sex addicts or can barely handle sex at all even in a committed marriage context.

Oh God, I think, that is me —part of that fallen 90% because surely everything for me is ALL fucked up.

I tell Marla.  She passionately argues, “YOU ARE THE 10%! ARE YOU CRAZY?” She gives her arguments and I give mine.

I let her win because, God, I want to believe her SO HARD.

////

I wrote that article in Talking Tab0o about the time I kinds sorta want to cheat not all that long ago, but trust me when I say, this battle is real, raw and ever-present.  I will confuse the relationship between love, sex and my worth until the cows come home.  It is constant.  I will fight this battle, I will fight these sex demons until my hair is gray and I’m far too tired to box dye it.

The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t ever have to be strong enough to handle this.  I only have to keep fighting to believe that in God’s grace and presence He is actively fighting for me, keeping me, loving me, forgiving me, holding me.

That is all the strength I have y’all.  I have HALF A MUSTARD SEED to believe God can do what He says He can do.

I refuse to promise you or anyone else that I will ever get this right.  I promise to drag myself to the foot of the cross listening for these words, ‘you don’t have to do this anymore. You don’t have to be this anymore. I have redeemed you.’

Even if I’m fighting the war between the truth and the lies every other minute, I know the truth can always push harder, can grip my soul, tether into my Spirit and bind up my broken heart as it has done since April 27, 1996 when Jesus bound into my life.  I had a whole mustard seed to offer him then, but now I only have a half.  Yet, it’s good enough for Him.

May you, weary soul, like me,  find that hope for today’s battle.  Maybe for this very minute.

God’s got you.  And He ain’t done yet, baby girl.  He ain’t done yet.

 

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Iced Tea, Decaf and the World Changing on Its Axis

by Diana

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The California sunlight was angling in the window, scattering itself, checker-board style, across the shiny surface of our table. I could feel its warmth on that crisp fall day as she and I visited, chattering about life and family, checking in.

The woman across the table from me was twenty-plus years my senior, a spiritual mentor for most of my life. I had a glass of iced tea that day, she a cup of decaf, and we were splitting a piece of pie after enjoying some hearty soup.

I remember that I was animated as we talked, excited about something I was learning in school. I was midway through a 4-year seminary experience at that point in my life, tentatively exploring whether or not God might be calling me to ministry. She was intrigued and a bit cautious, wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew. Mostly, though, she wanted to hear me talk. Always a learner, she couldn’t help but be excited by my enthusiasm for lectures, large books, and hard questions.

At some point in our conversation, she sat back with a big smile on her face, dropping every bit of caution from her voice. “Diana,” she said. “I am so excited for you! I’m so glad you’ve gone back to school — I remember when I did that for a year and how much fun it was to be in the classroom again.”

“Exactly,” I replied. “It is fun. It is exhilarating.”

And then I felt the sting of tears. She looked at me with concern and asked what the tears were about. And this is what I said:

“I love what I’m doing. I love it. And I believe more and more each day that this is exactly where God wants me to be. More than that, I think God may be pushing me into ordination, to a job, working as a pastor.”

“Ah,” she said. “A job. Is that what brings the tears?”

“No, not really. This is what makes me feel sad: that I would never be doing this, never, if my husband were not making enough money for me to pay the tuition costs. And to pay them easily, without any member of my family having to sacrifice one thing for me to be in school.”

And then she began to cry. She understood this kind of thinking all too well.

After all, that’s how she raised me.

Women are the ones who sacrifice for their families. Not men. Not children. Women. In  her world, God could not be calling any woman to do something that would cost her family anything. Not.Possible.

That is what I heard, what I saw, what I inhaled with my morning Roman Meal cereal every day that I lived in my parents’ home. Theirs was a good marriage, with deep mutual affection, a relationship that I always admired and was grateful to be a part of. But it was very clear who was in charge. My dad was quiet, but his opinion on any topic was the one that counted, and we knew it. Mom made sure we knew it.

In her forties, at about the age I was as we sipped our tea and coffee, my mom went back to our local junior college. She was a sharp cookie and her fellow students — decades younger — enjoyed her lively personality and good thinking.

But dad didn’t like it very well. Oh, he was proud of her, I think. But he was also just a little bit threatened by this change in status. My dad was an exceptionally kind and good man — I adored him and he adored me.

But.

He was the ‘smart one’ in our house. Always recognized as a prodigy growing up, yet riddled with deep insecurities, he needed my mom’s adoration and affirmation. In fact, she had saved his life more than once. Yes, he loved my mom immensely. But he wanted her at home, where he needed her. Now.

So she dropped out. Of course, she dropped out. And I doubt that my dad ever verbalized a request that she do so — she just intuited it. Exactly how she taught me to operate in the world, intuiting the needs of the man in my life.

And now here I was, reveling in grad school, maybe even heading toward a career — gasp! — outside the home, supported and encouraged by my husband in that endeavor. Ideas that were antithetical to the way my mother had lived her entire life. But on that day, at that sun-strewn table, she was able to see me and to say, “Hooray for you!”

And she was also able to see how her choices had colored my own for far too long. I saw it, too. When I said those words out loud, something important shifted inside my heart, something that has stuck with me, all these years later. Because the questions that were unspoken that day were enormous:

What do we believe about God and how God operates in this world?
What do we believe about ourselves, and about women in general?
What does obedience look like? Is it different for men and women?

I’d like to think that I would have heard and answered God’s call even if we were dirt poor and student loans were required. But if I’m honest? I don’t think so. I’ve undergone some pretty major changes in my thinking and in my life choices in the last third of my life. But that basic understanding of women as ‘less than?’ It was so thoroughly engrained in my spirit that God had to do an end run to get my attention!

It’s taken me a long time to embrace the truth of my own, unique personhood and to live out God’s call to be me, Diana, created in God’s image and saved by grace, with all the gifts and opportunities given to every member of Christ’s body also given to me. 

Because this is the truth I sing, this is the truth I know: I am a child of God first — before I am a wife, before I am a mother, before I am a daughter. Those tears shed over iced tea and decaf have been redeemed, again and again, and I’ve learned to enjoy the view from this side of the table very much indeed.

 

 

The Old Girl’s Funeral

by Andrea Levendusky

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I saw him there at the end of the bar. The lights hung low and I sidled up next to him, nervous and looking around for anyone I might recognize. I didn’t even know what to order. The bar was busy and the crowd buzzed around me as I tried to play it cool, but the twist in my stomach and the race of my heart was making me dizzy. Like a drug, I was inhaling him deep. He was here, next to me, and I didn’t care if everyone hated me. He wanted me. He loved me. He was magic when he wrapped his hands around my waist.

I told the bartender I wanted something sweet. I wanted to drink my alcohol but not taste it. If this wasn’t indicative of my whole experience thus far, I don’t know what is. I wanted the effects but not the burn. The pleasure but not the pain. 
I sipped on something pink. It buzzed in my brain along with my heart, and it wasn’t long before the earth started to tilt.

“I can’t believe I’m here,” I told him. “I think I should go home.”

“No, please,” he grabbed my hand. “Please don’t go home. Let’s run away. Let’s go to Boston. We can stay there for a few days.”

 It sounded like the movies. Two star-crossed lovers leave in the middle of the night for the city on the sea. We lingered at the bar and walked the back porch overlooking the river while I went round and round over my decision. Nothing felt right and everything felt wrong. After another drink or two, he had me convinced. I fell into the passenger seat next to this man who was someone else’s husband, we sped away from the bar.

We drove until the night wouldn’t allow us anymore and found a beat up hotel somewhere off the edge of the highway. I couldn’t tell you any details about it today. The town, the name, the highway exit. I just know its sign glowed bright and we were like moths to the flame.

Flash forward two years. We had cut off most ties with family and were married in a small chapel in North Texas. I tried in all my own power to have my cake and eat it too. I tried to make things right by just moving forward and hoped in returning to New York for our honeymoon, I’d find some kind of peace of mind again. Maybe with a ring on my finger, I would finally have the approval of everyone in my life. When I left, I was running. In my return, I was holding my messy life in my hands, asking everyone to tell me it’s all going to be ok now.

Massachusetts bound, we marked out a map through the mountains to Boston, back up to New Hampshire, Vermont, and back to New York again. (These were the days before I solely relied on my iPhone and so I was left to navigating on an unfolded map.) An hour or two of “No, not that way,” “This way,” and suddenly we were on a retail strip that looked familiar.

“Do you know this place?” I asked him. He shook his head, looking each and every way for the signs to where we were to go. I see a familiar grocery store. A McDonalds. A Dunkin Donuts. An old decripit gas station hides next to a hotel that has a “vacancy” sign lit up next to the highway. It’s only when we stop at the red light when it all clicks.

“Oh my God,” I say, and my stomach drops into my knees. I have run thousands of miles and for two and half years, and it’s all led me back to the same old hotel, same old highway, same nauseous feeling in my gut.

“That’s the hotel, isn’t it?” He asked. And I nodded. All of the previous years of heartache and breaking had only led us in a giant circle and something in me felt like perhaps we hadn’t made any progress at all. Perhaps all of these years were just one giant wandering in the wilderness; a twilight zone of running from the Lord until you realize no map will lead you to repentance.

Another four years later, after our divorce, I moved back home to New York. For years, I had tried to avoid these towns that were so jam-packed with bad memories everywhere I turned. When every grocery store, every highway, every store reminds you of the person you used to be, it starts to feel a bit like attending your own funeral.

One Sunday, I drove into the city with my sister and her family to attend their church. We pulled up along the road next to the river, and I knew in an instant that once again, He was bringing me around to a wake of my former self. We parked next to the rushing Hudson River. The river looked much the same and the bar facade was unchanged. But this time I wasn’t going for a drink; I was going into the sounds of worship and the flickering flames of hope and prayer. In the foyer, where everyone was huddling and exchanging hugs, looking over the Sunday handout and chasing little children between legs, I traced my fingers along the bar top, and remembered the girl who sat at this same rounded wooden ledge years ago, her life teetering on the edge of unknown. I slipped past the stools that spun me and looked out to see the wooden porch still standing, and then stepped into a room full of people to sing my heart bare before Jesus once again.

It is not lost on me, that He keeps bringing me back to these places. It’s like He wants me to know — He saw me then. When I was sipping on a pink sugary cocktail, He saw me. When I was making circles under the stars and over the water, He was near. When I was climbing into the car, He was there. When I made my bed and laid down in some random hotel room, He was there. He has never not been there. Something about that is comforting to me, as I wince at the memories. Something is gentle and peaceful in my soul when I think that He saw, He loves, He redeems. Something about attending your own funeral is a reminder that there is Someone who beat death, even the death in me.

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Speaking Fear, Praying Shalom

by Osheta Moore

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(Trayvon Martin, age 17. The author’s son Tyson, age 10)

 We’re stomping in the sludge on our walk to the bus stop. Every so often, the boys slide on the ice while my daughter clings to my coat for dear life. I call to them, “Listen: We need to make one stop at the GAP before dinner. I have your books in my bag. Sit and read while I shop and you’ll get an extra hour at bedtime tonight.”

“But why, Mama?” My oldest whines.

“Because it’s good for you and because I said so!” My pat answer comes too sharp, too quick, too vague.

I don’t want to tell the truth that his mama is afraid. This Black Mama is afraid when I roll deep with my three kiddos in the affluent parts of Cambridge. I’m afraid of sideways glances and watchful eyes. I don’t want to tell my kids that they must been seen and not heard, not because their little voices don’t matter, but because the sound of our invasion invokes fear or annoyance. I don’t want to tell them that today, I read another story of racial profiling resulting in another black boy’s life cut short, and I keep seeing my oldest son’s face replace the victim’s face.

So, I remind them of their books and give them an incentive, and issue pat answers.

*****

“Mama,” my daughter whispers, her wild curly hair tickling my nose, “I think Tyson took something from the store.”

We are walking out of The Harvard Coop’s bookstore, making our way down the spiral stairwell that spans three floors, when I stop.

“What?”

“Check his pocket,” she answers.

I look at my man-child, a few steps below me, oblivious to that perfect storm of fear, anger, and black mama indignation churning in my gut.

“Tyson— COME HERE!” I demand. “Did you take something from this bookstore?”

His face screws up in indignation, “No, Mama!”

I don’t believe him so I gently pull him to me. His little gray-green eyes widen in hurt as I check his pockets.

The very same hands that wiped his bum, dabbed away his tears, and treated bloody wounds, issue his first ever semi-public pat down.

Humiliation. Exposure. Distrust. I feel his shame as my hands press his pants pockets, his coat.

“Tyson, what is this?” I ask, holding a pair of neon orange GAP sunglasses that I did not pay for.

“Mama…” he starts, “Mama…I’m sorry…I stole them.”

A cold silence falls over our little group.

“Here’s what you’re going to do,” I hiss. “You are going to walk back into that store and say ‘Hello my name is Tyson, I’m eleven years old and when I was here with my mom, I took these glasses. I know it was wrong and I’m sorry.’”

“But, Mama!” He starts to protest.

All the fear, all the fury, all the disappointment boils over and words spill out. “Tyson! Don’t you know they expect this from us? Don’t you know that to them,you’re just another black kid to watch when you come into their stores? Don’t you know they ‘Stand Their Ground’ against us over this nonsense? This isn’t just about sunglasses!”

“What do you mean, Mama?” With every word, I could see my fear chasing away his innocence.

Baby, we’re black. It’s not safe for us. They’ll shoot first without asking questions, and your stealing only gives them permission not to trust us. It makes murdering us okay. Look at Trayvon Martin. They’re afraid of us. Don’t you see?”

“I…I didn’t know, Mama. I didn’t know it was like that. I just didn’t know…” He sputters as we leave the bookstore.

*****

My baby takes those sunglasses back to the GAP. He recites my apology. His eyes well up in fear-rich tears of shame. He’s no longer a little boy who made a mistake; he’s now a soldier in this racially charged battle. Another black boy versus an unforgiving white world.

My fear did that to him. For my son the world is now “us” and “them.”

That night as I tuck my daughter into bed, she holds my face and when our brown eyes meet she says, “Mama…if they shoot black boys, what do they do to black girls?”

*****

Later on, I lie on my bed, weeping. I ask Jesus what the hell I am doing. I have a child who steals, a terrified daughter, and a mouth full of fears.

I remember the hoodie wearing boys, the loud music listening boys, and the girls who needed help in the middle of the night. I cry for mamas whose mouths are full of fear too.

I meditate on the words of college professor and slam poet Javon Johnson’s, “Black boys in this country cannot afford to play cops and robbers if [they’re] always considered the latter.” I’m grieving over child-like innocence lost. I ask God to give me some Heavenly Parental pat answer, but nothing comes.

*****

As I begin to write a prayer for the family of Jordan Davis the next morning, as I type out petitions before the throne of God and the whole interwebs, I remember these words:

Perfect love casts out fear.

I think of Jesus who taught shalom to fear-riddled followers. Who spoke of an Upside Down Kingdom where the first are last, the children of God make peace, and the weary find rest. Where those who live by the sword of fearful words and accusations die by that very sword, but those who speak life and pray for comfort will see the Kingdom of God touch earth in profound, barrier-breaking ways.

I remember that shalom—the realization of God’s perfect love on this terrified earth—happens when his children are reconciled to each other as they have been reconciled to him.

So I write my friends with blogs and I confess that as a black mama with Stand Your Ground Laws picking off our children one by one—I’m terrified of “them”. I invite them to write prayers as we stand together for God’s wholeness in the brokenness the justice system. We are white women and black, American and Canadian, young and old, urban and suburban and my fear will no longer perpetuate “us” and “them”.

Together we will stand our ground…in prayer.

*****

This Mama is still afraid. I’m afraid that my sweet boy in a hoodie could be mistaken for a threatening hoodlum and that a fear-propelled bullet could be his tragic end.

This Mama is still afraid, so I will try to stand my ground and pray shalom when I’m tempted to speak fear.

 

When the abused becomes the abuser

by Elizabeth Esther

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I.

I know this fear intimately.  Its shadow creeps through my nightmares: will I become what I hate? Will I repeat the cycle of abuse? Will the abused become the abuser? It requires constant vigilance, a determination to act and live differently. And even then, sometimes this Dark Me leaks out in a sudden flick of judgmental tongue, a harshly critical word, a callous dismissal. I was raised in condemnation. My greatest challenge is to receive grace–and to give it.

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II.

You don’t learn to ride a bike by thinking about it. You learn by doing. By feeling your way through it.

This is what my twins teach me on the first morning of a New Year–that riding a bike without training wheels is terrifying at first but once you get going, the movement moves you out of fear and into the flow–suddenly, without thinking about it, you are simply riding. You are riding a bike.

Jasiel gets this intuitively. She’s always been the feeler. She thrills to the wind in her hair, little legs pumping pedals and within minutes she is tearing across the park: “Look, Mama! I’m RIDING!”

Jorai is frustrated. Before she tries, she wants to know the process, the method, the 1-2-3 of bike riding. I try to explain. But it’s useless.

You don’t learn to ride a bike by thinking about it. You learn by doing it. It stops me short.

I’m speaking to her, yes, but I’m also speaking to me. The way into grace is a way of living. A way of doing. I don’t learn to live by grace by thinking about it.

I learn it by surrender, by receiving it, by feeling my way into this new way of being.

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III.

“It’s like flying,” she says.

It’s like freedom. Jorai–the little Overthinker–has cast aside her thinking and is simply flying. She leaps over and over and over, landing on soft sand dune in the wan sunshine of a Pacific winter. She is unafraid, even when she crash-lands a few times. She rolls and shakes it off. This jumping into a life free of condemnation, it’s a controlled falling.

There are some crash landings and mistakes. I’m learning to be OK with my failures because they teach me humility. They remind me of my humanity. I’m learning to exercise empathy for myself, to be tender and kind with my humanness.

Being raised in condemnation makes for a harshness towards self. Until I learn kindness toward me, I can’t extend true kindness to others. My children teach me how to be kind to myself.

Jorai falls in the sand and pops up laughing. “Sometimes you fall and that’s OK!” she says.

Yes. Sometimes we fall and that’s OK. It’s the getting up and doing differently that matters.

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IV.

Do you remember what it felt like to run and not grow weary? How, as a child, you ran everywhere–that running was normal, instinctive? You didn’t walk, you ran. Running is easier when you’re lighter, when you’re not carrying Shame. My twins are natural runners, easy runners. I am not. I am awkward, hunched, wheezy.

And yet, when we run together I catch a glimpse of what it means to let go of all that and just run with confidence the race set before me. My twins teach me to laugh when I run. To run through the pain and burst out on the other side where laughter and lightness of being reside.

Yes, I have that Dark Me inside but I also have the Light Me. My race in life is to live in the Light. To run toward the light. And to laugh.

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V.

“Girl at The End of the World”my story of being raised in a fundamentalist Christian cult and escaping to create a new life for myself–releases into the world today.

I am terrified. I am also hopeful. I am exhausted. I am utterly spent. I broke open my heart bled onto the paper. For you. For me. For my children. And for yours. I did my very best and now, I surrender it to you. I surrender to grace.

By God’s grace, I have broken the cycle. By God’s grace I will continue to break it and live free.

The Girl at the End of the World

Muscle Memories

by Dulce

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My son has been begging for karate lessons for months, and we agreed that it would be better for him to actually learn than just make up his own moves on his sisters. We got the oldest two kidlets signed up, and it only made sense that my husband or I join too since we would have to wait anyway. My husband elected me.

I was secretly excited. I had earned a blue belt in the same system back in my teens and had loved it. But, hello. That was twenty years ago. I had stopped my second year of college because of schedule conflicts and had never gone back.

As we warmed up, I noticed that the sensei was probably half my age. We stretched in ways that my body had not even attempted in decades. Fifty pounds and four kids had altered my center of gravity. At one point, we stood on one foot to stretch and I toppled over. The poor sensei nearly turned purple holding back a laugh. I was beginning to question if I was just too old for this.

Then we began a series of blocks, kicks and strikes. Suddenly I realized that they were flowing naturally. The hours of practice when I was younger made these movements seem smooth and natural. We shifted into defense scenarios, and I didn’t even have to think as I slipped out of different holds. Despite the time and the changes, the muscle memories took over and helped me through.

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“I need to tell you something.”  I smiled down at my daughter and she giggled. “I know! You love me and you like me.” “Yes! And I love you when you are sad, and I love you when you are mad, and I love you when you are happy, and I love you all the time.”

A few hours later, she was angry at my refusal (again) to buy ice cream bars. “I am sorry you are disappointed, sweetie. I love you and I like you.” Her chocolate brown eyes rolled as expressively as any teenager. “Yes, I get it! You love me forever and you like me for always,” she huffed.

Bedtime. I lean over her, and she is half asleep. “I love you and I like you all day and all night.” Her eyes flutter closed as she mumbles, “I know, mom. You love me forever and for always, and more than that and more than that and more than that.”

We say that to each other so many times a day that it has become a reflex. But I know something that she doesn’t, yet. Many years from now, when she is figuring out just who she really is, and disappointments run much deeper than ice cream bars, she may find that her center of gravity has changed. She might be carrying more burdens that threaten to knock her off balance. In that day, I want the muscle memories to be so strong that her subconscious will kick in automatically, and remind her deep in the core of her being that I love her forever and like her for always, and more than that and more than that and more than that.

 

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Finding God in Spin Class

by JenJ

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We were about half way through the class. The room was dark, but for the black light that illuminated sweat and tears. Fans were blowing, but not hard enough. I truly began to consider the fact that if I left now, it wouldn’t be too humiliating.

We started a long and hard climb. The music began to build and she asked us to close our eyes. She had WAY more energy than the rest of us, but as a longtime instructor, knew when to bring in the big guns.

“FIND YOUR POWER.”

With my eyes closed and my resistance building, I pondered her command. Then without even knowing why, I was transported to a hiking trip I took in college, while studying abroad. Where were in Switzerland, in lush green hills overlooking a lake. What we thought would be a fun and pretty trip turned out to be one of the hardest climbs I’d ever taken.

I was grouchy then, too.

For far too many times in my life, I’ve said the words, “I can’t.” That day, I was encouraged to keep climbing by sorority sisters and once we reached the top, I was truly stunned by the beauty before me. I saw miles and miles of twists and turns, lush vegetation, and views that almost made me cry. I surveyed God’s beauty that day and knew that no one and nothing else could have created what I was seeing. It was magical and majestic and a testimony of His power.

The song ended.

Now, we were asked to take a seat and scootch back. The tempo picked up and she wanted us to flush out our screaming legs. It was time to turn down the resistance and pick up the pace.

Into her microphone she yelled, “FIND YOUR JOY.”

I closed my eyes again, trying to keep my internal bitching to a minimum. I’m not a mystical person, so I was tempted to roll my eyes at her request. But before I knew it, a vision came to me.

This vision had come to me once before in a dream, but as a skeptic and cold robot, I just shrugged it off. But today, in this class, being fully awake and painfully alert, I allowed myself to explore it.

I’m sitting down, heavily pregnant with my left hand touching my belly. I’m in a state of bliss. It’s so real that I can feel my fingertips touching the skin that protects my unborn child.

I wonder if it’s a gift from the Lord.

It freaks me out a little, but before I can delve into this “sight”, the song changes again.

I didn’t realize it, but the class has come to an end. The music is now soothing and we begin to stretch. As our arms are clasped overhead and we’re leaning to the right, she quietly says:

“FIND YOUR PEACE.”

I continue my cool down and think about the fact that the quiet times I have, whether they be surrounded by family and close friends or alone in a bubble bath with a good book and even better glass of wine, are moments of peace provided not by myself, but by the Father.

And then I feel guilt.

My relationship with Him had been really dry lately…shamefully so. I’ve been a shell of a Christian for a while. I talked a good game, but internally, haven’t had much to show for this relationship that I claimed to be first and foremost in my life. I had snatched a fist hold of control and hadn’t let go until this moment when I found God in spin class.

I hated that class.

I loved that class.

 

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