Unknown bondages

“Your history isn’t written yet,” said Miri.

Lately she marveled at how her own history was constantly shifting.  Two years before, she would have written: Laren of Mount Eskel was disappointed in his daughter Miri.  She was so slight and weak, he forbade her from so much as stepping foot inside the quarry.

Just the past year, Miri had learned the truth.   Her ma had been injured in the quarry and died a week after Miri’s birth, and so great was her father’s love and sorrow he would not risk his baby girl in that place.  What other truths would one day be revealed about old stories?  History was as hard to hold as a wet fish.

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone -Shannon Hale

Oh God, what did we interpret through a child’s eyes that has no place amongst the truth?  We put this unknown into your hands.  Lead us into truth and freedom in your good time.  Amen.

 

 

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Christmas Eve presents

Enter Christmas, my best season.  The season of full-heartedness.

How I love it!  The warmth of the color red. Twinkles. Lights. Sparkles. Jesus!

This holiday really has everything!  Meaning, warmth and presents.

In regular life, my heart jumps a little bit at the idea of presents.  In spring and summer and fall.  At birthdays.  1/2 birthdays.  Graduation, holidays, accomplishments of all kinds! For me AND for others.  My heart warms at a good and well-placed present.  Because. . . presents!

Highlights reel:

1. Soccer blanket.  One year in high school my Mom swore Christmas off, because she was STRESSED out about money.  Probably very justifiably.  But it was disheartening.  Yet, on Christmas morning, I had this present under the tree.  It was a woven blanket that had a professional soccer player kicking a ball, hard.  It was amazing!  It was for me. It was from my Dad. 23 years later, I still have it.  It is a reminder that he noticed my sadness, took time to find something that I would like and spent money on me!  A warm blanket in place of emptiness.  My heart accepted it as love.

2. Diet Peach Snapple.  This one day my Mom came home from Big Lots with a beverage that was likely outdated but was tasty and was. . .  my current favorite drink! A gift? Absolutely!  You see, there my Mom was in this disjointed and over-stimulating store hunting for who knows what.  As she wandered around she saw this random item and. . . remembered.  Me. On my part, no chatter, reminders or charm was necessary.  Somehow, my preference had stuck with her, and she indulged me with an unnecessary treat.  Again, love.

And there have been so many more gifts. . . costly, free, from family and friends.  At 39, I have been the recipient of SO much generosity and love.  Even apart from Christmas, presents are everywhere.  Last week my co-therapist bought me beef jerky. Our supervisor told him that meat was my love language (long story, maybe another blog). Love tank?  Full!

And now that I am so old and have loads of spending money (think of the contrast of having a 40 hour a week job after only making $800/mo for the last 4 years) I get to be the giver!  Giver of good gifts.

Highlights reel:

1. (Prior to big money) Party hats, noisemakers, tea bags, kiwi’s. When I worked at the library, I always liked to keep little prizes behind the desk.  Students were in my heart and there they were, giving it the literal “college try.” They would tell me of the impending disaster (i.e. their next test, paper, etc) and I would cheer them on.  Then, they would let me know how they did, and we would celebrate via small gifts like a party hat to wear around for the rest of the night.  Or a balloon.  Or a tasty candy.  Gum. Noisemaker. Fruit.  I made it a point of having these on hand so that I could love them.

2. Comfort, stillness, beauty. You- stop arguing with me.  I DID give comfort, stillness and beauty! This is how I did it: My friend recently celebrated her birthday.  I saw this beautiful, handmade mug at a local coffee shop.  It practically spoke her name.  It was pottery with a earthy tan base and a creamy glaze.  It had a folk flower imprint placed asymmetrically over a peaceful light blue, with 3 dots of red for a splash of color.  I knew my artistic friend.  She would be calmed by the beauty.  And the beauty would top off a still moment in the midst of a swirling life of wife-ing a pastor, mothering, homeschooling 3, learning the organ and earning Taekwondo belts.  A mug is what my friend needed.  It’s beauty and the warmth of it’s contents would meet her in sickness.  Or in the quiet moments after the kids were down, where she caught up with the hubs.  A reminder to slow down, find comfort, drink in beauty.  All cupped between her two hands.

Ah, gifts.  So much power, so much possibility.  They can so easily speak love- given and received.  And how much joy there is in giving a meaningful and well-placed present!  One that gives initially and then keeps right on giving.  Meets people in empty spaces.  Speaks, “You are not alone” or “You are noticed” right when they weren’t so sure.

When I have one of these to give, I can hardly contain myself.  At a friend’s party I might say something neutral like, “When do we get to open the presents?”  I will try to gently push us in the direction while waiting.  But it is the thing that I want to happen most.  My calm exterior belies the dancing party within.  Think “toddler trying not to have an accident.” That’s right, my insides are hopping from foot to foot.

Here I stand.  Waiting expectantly for the joy and delight I know is coming.  And this small, pure part of me. . . that’s just me being like my Dad.  I just know it!  He is the best at ALL of the love languages.

And so I wonder.  I wonder what Christmas Eve was like for Him?

Were there twinkles in his eyes?  Was He hopping from foot to foot?

He, who numbers the hairs on our head, and knows when a sparrow falls to the ground. The Father, who would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. The One whose gentleness makes us great, whose goodness was what He was most proud of.  This true, powerful and tender heart had a present.

It was for Israel crushed under oppression, waiting for a word of hope after 400 years of silence.  His kids.  And us, us too.  The Gentiles. . . the weary world.

He was the one who created us. . . knit us together. . .  watched.  Saw the slave’s tears in the desert. He saw it all, weariness, hopelessness, silence. . . keen need.

My Dad was there, perched on the edge of the BEST GIFT, the one that would make all of our sadness come untrue.  And he was waiting there to give it. . . to those who were saddest.

From one gift giver to another I just don’t know how He contained Himself.  And the angels?  If I was one, I would have been jumping up and down with my hand raised, the universal symbol for “Pick me! Pick me!”

SUCH is the news that we celebrate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you do one thing well. . .

it should be something that brings wholeness and healing.  And what brings wholeness and healing more consistently than soup?

I ask you.

Now that you have given that questions some thought, let’s take a little excursion back in time. . .

“I am making soup!” I exclaimed to the checkout lady as she scanned my carrots, celery, onion and chicken broth. “Soup is like a warm hug on a cold day,” she replied, profoundly.

This conversation happened 5 years and countless pots of soup ago.  But who can forget such a true statement?  Not this girl.

Today, I would like to recommend Butternut Squash Soup.

Reasons that you should make this:

  1. Wholeness and healing people!  Geez.
  2. Butternut Squash is in season, so it is cheap
  3. Tastes creamy like it has a milk base with thousands of calories.  But it doesn’t! Pretty much magic!
  4. Warm, rich, inviting soup that you can share with your friends or family
  5. It smells gorgeous- check it out!IMG_0113.JPGIMG_0114.JPGIMG_0115.JPGIMG_0117.JPG

TRICKS (to be aware of before getting started):

  1. Prepping the butternut squash- don’t do it!  Cook it whole.  When you can stick a fork in it, it’s done.  300 degrees for 1 1/2 hours should do it (Or 400 for an hour, flipping it over at 30 min).  Then let it cool.  Cut/ peel skin off.  Cut in half, take seeds out and dice.  Takes less than 10 minutes to do two. Yes, I saved you a half an hour AND sore wrists!
  2. Better Than Bouillon IS actually better than bouillon.  It seems pricey, but lasts a LONG time and is delicious!
  3. Chicken broth.  Aldi has 32 oz boxes of Organic AND free range chicken broth.  On a good day, it is only $1.79.  Can’t even get the generic with-everything version for this price anywhere else!
  4. The curry is important on this, trust me.  The recipe doesn’t call for too much so that it takes over the flavor.  It just gives it a roundness that you can’t get without it. And you want yellow, not red.
  5. Below is the doubled version because it is that good.  Also, it freezes SUPER well. When it is cool, I fill (high quality, also important detail) quart size freezer bags and let all of the air out. Then I lay them flat on a cutting board in the freezer.  This way, I can stack them upright (like books on a bookshelf) once they are completely frozen.

Butternut Squash Soup

4 TBSP good butter

One large onion, chopped

4 stalks celery, chopped

8 medium carrots, chopped

2 medium butternut squash

2 cloves garlic, pressed

2, 32 oz chicken stocks

1 tsp Better Than Bouillon chicken bouillon

1 1/2 tsp yellow curry

1/4 tsp nice Hungarian paprika (DON’T use smoked )

salt and pepper to taste

pinch cayenne pepper (be attentive here, a little goes a LONG way)

  1. Cook butternut squash (if not a masochist, do it my way)
  2. Melt butter in a big pan.  Add veggies and cook for 5 min or until lightly browned.
  3. Cover with chicken stock and bullion.  Cook until fork inserted shows that they are done (!).
  4. Peel and cube the butternut squash, add it when veggies are cooked.
  5. Put one-two inches of chicken broth in the bottom of your blender, then add several scoops of vegetable mixture over top.  Begin blending.  Add chicken broth as necessary.  ****BEWARE****  Hot things in the blender are dangerous to your welfare. Be careful for the sake of your face.
  6. Get a good-sized, empty soup pan.  Empty blended portions into the pot.  Once all blended portions are added, stir together.  Add spices and taste.  Add more chicken broth if you want it to be thinner.  If it doesn’t have enough flavor I would add a little bit more salt to draw it out.
  7. Enjoy!

 

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This recipe brought to you via. . . I don’t know who.  Probably the internet.  Luckily for me, I make so many changes to recipes that the originator can no longer recognize it as their own.  Yay!

Please try this.  Then I expect a full report!

 

 

 

Sparkles and. . .

Yesterday I felt backed into a corner and I didn’t like it.  Mostly, I feel strongly about corners.  And even more strongly about those with “Dismiss me” flashing overhead in neon lights.

My co-therapist and I had just finished a family session with a Mom and Dad who are really struggling with each other. There was shouting.  Many “always” and “nevers.” So many.  They pierced like arrows.  After awhile they collected into piles, formed groups and created banners for their respective sides.  They chanted and cheered.  Depending on your stance it was either exciting, an intense nail-biter, or ulcer inducing.

Regardless, I brought my game.  My game flows through my warm, attachment-rich personality. It flows through sparkles and humor.  But not in a Pollyana-ish, patronizing way. It flows through an in-tune-ness that picks up underlying emotions and patterns of relating. And emotions that people didn’t even know were there.  And an internal sense of what those emotions (level of brokenness, hurt, etc.) mean for the other.

And there it is, how I do therapy.  On purpose.  And it involves a significant amount of skin in the game. My skin.

Tonight, at the end of the session the Dad was like, “You are pretty much a kindergarten teacher.”  Once he caught the look on my face he clarified, “That was a compliment.” The Dad said his thing, then clarified its benevolent meaning, then moved on.  And yet, there is this place in me that still smarts over that language.

What I heard: Demeaning of delight.  The jaded adult who is “above” soaking in beauty, creation, wonder.  Who considers these things childish.  And hope as naive.  And uses back-handed compliments that allow him to dismiss me.  This has happened just enough times, unanswered, that my heart automatically goes there.  Be that his intent or not. It returns to the place of belittling and dismissal.

So this morning I was chatting with God about it. There is always growing for me to do regarding healthy boundaries, plenty of growing.  So I am trying to check in with God. Questions I asked: “Why do I let words matter to me so much? and “What truth do I need to hold onto in order to battle this?” In the mean time, longing for God to just go ahead and put some alligator skin over my heart.  Then I wouldn’t ever feel raw or pushed. I would not care what anyone said.  I would be badass.  How I long for badass-ness!

But that was not this morning’s conclusion.  This morning’s conclusion had to do with gratefulness.

Wherein it struck me all at once, “Yes, I am like a kindergarten teacher. Alive!  Excited! Wanting to ask questions until I am questioned out. Getting caught up in moments. Yielding to wonder and delight.  Noticing people.  Then noticing their progress!  Then celebrating it!  Victory is everywhere people (defeat is too, and that is why it is so IMPORTANT to celebrate the victories)!

There it is. I have the perky personality of the quintessential kindergarten teacher.

But you know what else?

I AM a skilled clinician.  I do not leave suffering people alone.  I can sit with them.  Bad behavior?  I can sit with that too.  And I can see.  Into it, beyond it.  Into the murky places where the pain started and where the behaviors made sense.  My curiosity seeks out the motivations.  My empathy feels the truth of why.  And I strive. . . to connect with people.  To draw them deeper into themselves.  And not fear the ground in there.  And even grow to appreciate it.  And ultimately, to invite safe others inside that hallowed ground. Even God.  Especially God.

The sparkles of Kindergarten? Resounding “YES!”  The insight of a trained clinician?  Also, “YES.”

So I accept the compliment. . . more than that.    I see the compliment and I raise it!

Down with corners!

I take the compliment with joy and raise my hand to a God who can bring the warmth and sparkle together with insight and hope.  Thanks God, it’s a good fit for this dark world.  I say, “Amen!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loved back!

Once, a long time ago, I had a job at the library at Geneva College.  God’s hand was ABSOLUTELY in the inception and continuation of this employment opportunity.  And now I look back. . .

Inception:  I moved to Beaver Falls Pennsylvania to earn my graduate degree in counseling. This was a BIG step into my future.  At 16 years old, I said that being a counselor was what I wanted to do.  Fast forward 20 years.  Still considering, fighting lies and NOT seeing the skies part, the sun shining down or hearing the audible voice of God. Yet my heart was irrepressibly drawn to act on it’s desire.  And doors kept opening.  So I came.

After getting adjusted to my first semester and having a very sparse nanny-ing job I thought it was time to look for work that would pay (at least some of) my expenses.  I started praying about this seriously and I got a phone call from the admission counselor in my program.  She said she just heard about a graduate assistant opening at the library on campus.  She said, “Take action right now!”  I did.  And within a week I was hired!

At the time, this absolutely seemed like a match made in heaven.  I consider books art. And I consider good art a vehicle that God uses to express truth.  One that short-circuits our defensive logic.  Then it speaks truth and healing.

I have experienced it.  So I believe it.  My perspective lends itself to feeling romantically towards libraries.  Art, truth, healing, learning and empowering ourselves to act in a broken world. . . all in one building. . .where like-minded people come together. . .  Sigh. . .

Continuation: Then school was really hard.  The fall semester of my second year was approaching.  In which my library job would shift from being mornings 15 hours a week to 20 hours a week 8-midnight shift.  I was taking a full course load of graduate classes (4) and working 15 hours a week at the counseling center on campus.  This would make for 3, 12-14 hour days in my week.  Going to bed at 1 am and counseling students at 9 am the next morning.  I knew I couldn’t do it.  So I asked the library what would happen if it was too much for me.  Could someone else take one of the nights?  No.  In fact, if I anticipated this, would I please decline the job so that someone else could do all of it?

Enter praying, praying, praying and seeking wisdom.  Again, I didn’t feel like I heard strongly from God.  No angels singing.  No audible voice.  But maybe somewhere deep down a, “It’s going to be okay.”  And it seemed wise to have a paying job.  So, with trepidation,  I let the library know I wanted to stay.  With no cushion.  I NEEDED to do it, EVERY night.

Enter the midnight shift.  There I was, having these days where I doubted that I could string together a complete sentence.  Where I was anxious over how far I was behind on my school work, where I had no time to reflect on what happened in my day before engaging the next thing. I was exhausted!  Heavy footed, I clomped over the the library. And tried.  Many of those nights I was tense.  But probably more often I got slap-happy or curious about someone’s research, or desiring to lend a sympathetic ear, or to pray, or to give them prizes or to cheer them on.  So I did.  And this became my zone.  To just use this time to REALLY care about the students.  To love.  To give.

This is the first year that my heart was full on mother’s day.  I had more kids than anyone that I knew!  And I loved them pretty well.

Fast forward 2 semesters and 4 months.  Graduation past, degree completed.  40 hour a week counseling job.

And the students came back to campus!  I invited them over for a party at my house, longing to hear their stories from the summer.  Longing to hug them. But it was a little bit vulnerable for me, because I was just a library worker.  Would they want to come over and visit, sacrifice their time?  Time together, not a happy accident, but on purpose?

They did!  And it filled a place in my heart.  All that time, all those months where I was barely making it, sucking wind, but wanting to care and caring.  All that time, THEY were caring back. They were loving back.  And I was loved.  In their listening, sharing in my joy, accepting small gifts, and coming along for wild research rides!  These, each of these, was (unrecognized) love.

And it washed over me, the sense of God’s goodness in this thing.  This thing.  The anticipation of which made my stomach knot and my anxiety spike. This thing with all of its impossibility.  The thing that God went before me in.  Where he spoke life into my days through students.  Through being loved back.  Whether I knew it or not.

God bless us with eyes to see, presence to soak these moments in, and memory to celebrate these times– the loved back ones!

Peeling back the layers, Part 1

I have to admit, these last few weeks have been rough.  And when I say rough, I mean rough-rougherson.  Or rough-y-mcrough’s-alot.  THAT bad. Blood pressure rising, chest getting tight, roller-coaster emotions.  Every day.

This time, like an onion, my thoughts, feelings and processing came through in layers.

While questioning my sanity, deep breathing and otherwise praying against panic attacks I had several ongoing conversations with God.  And, like an onion, he peeled back the layers of jumbled and bunchy thoughts and feelings. All of which can (and will) be their own blog topics. Let us begin with:

CONTROL.

A family who I have been working with placed their child in an inpatient psychiatric unit.  I was with them as they made the decision.  I was there to see their tears, hear the frustration in their tight voices, and watch their child (who was over the ugly moment) enjoy a popsicle in the ER. When the social worker talked with Mom, I offered her options for where to place her child. She decided and we moved forward.  I talked with the family some and then headed home. But in the parking lot it hit, “This feels really shitty.”   All of that in there, all of that emotion.  Worse, the outcome.  “Man, I let that kid down!  I should have talked them into this, or advocated for that, or tried to convince them of the other thing.” I felt dirty.  Like a turncoat.

I continued to feel that way for the next few days.  As I was asking God about why I was coming unglued, I realized why.  It was because the situation was out of control! So I let God know.  It was scary to be in an out-of-control situation.  It was, and is. But. . .his response caught me off guard.

Cue deep internal voice (that I am pretty sure was God) “Out of control?”

Cue tone that begs the question “Out of who’s control?”

Oh.

I thought about how I fear handing situations over to God.  He and I have different opinions about suffering, especially HOW MUCH He should allow. Especially when it’s kids, or those who don’t have the power to choose differently- you know, victims.  On the topic of suffering, THAT is where our gulf is the widest.

Yet in the moment, in the midst of my stomach knotting up (like I said, NOT an easy thing for me) it was true and I could see it:

God knows.

He knew for me.  He knows for others.

I would still chose differently than he chose, but. . .  I have known healing.  Sweet, deep and ongoing.  And I have known freedom.  And redemption. And relationships.  And joy.

In dark times I saw my losses as irrecoverable and my inner world without hope.  Yet. . . that was NOT the end of my story.  Not by any means.  And God knew what would sink me forever.  What would break me.  And I believe those are the things that he protected me from.  And if He had the broad-wide-deep wisdom to know and prevent one over the other for me, then he will for others.

And so I let go.

 

And that, my friends, was the first layer.

 

Treasure hunt!

I watched the movie Moneyball the other night at a friends house.  The main character is Billy Bean, played by Brad Pitt.  It was a movie that highlighted a job that I didn’t know existed (general manager) for a sport I generally don’t care much about (sorry/not sorry baseball fans). Ever inquisitive about how things work, and what life is like for other people, I couldn’t help but like it. Even more, I was caught up in the story. Because getting caught up in a story is one of my favorite things ever, I decided to put it in my “Movies Worthy of Recommending” category.

The general story line is very sport-sy and American independenc-ey about baseball, money, picking teams right, this guy that did it differently than other people and thus was unpopular. Will it work out for him?  Will he go down in flames?  Should he be sticking to his gut instinct like this?  These are all questions a viewer is asking.  This is the backdrop. But, as usual, there are relationships happening left and right that impact the story.  One of said relational blips is the relationship between Billy and his daughter.

Billy and the Mom are separated (maybe divorced?) and he hasn’t been very involved in his daughter’s life up to these, her teenage years. But he decides that he wants to do things a little bit differently, so he has his daughter fly up to visit him.  In one scene, he takes her to a music store and they look at all the guitars.  She is drawn to several that are pretty because they have red on them.

Even in her awkward teen-ness, he convinces her to play the guitar and sing in the store. She does.  And she sings this song that has a really catchy tune.  Catchy enough that I decided to you tube it the next day.  As I listened to the song (originally by Venka), I resonated with words.  Like much good art, they echoed my internal, lived experience.

“I’m just a little bit caught in the middle, life is a maze and love is a riddle, I don’t know where to go, can’t do it alone, I’ve tried and I don’t know why.” And I am like, “Right on, Venka! You are peppy and cute and I resonate with your message.  I KNOW this kind of unrest and confusion!”  But I still thought that I liked the smooth sweetness of the actress’ version of this best.  So I looked up the Moneyball clip.

Casey picks up the guitar, hums and plays it a bit.  Dad watches. “You need to sing.  That’s SO good.  It’s beautiful.”  Casey says, “Sometimes I sing.  It’s fun to sing with your song. But I don’t want people to listen to me.” Dad, “Aww, honey.  I think people would love to listen to you, that is beautiful.” Pause. “Would you sing a little for your dad, right here in the middle of the store?”  She smiles, unsure.  She looks more closely at him, weighing the pro’s and con’s through squinted eyes.  And she acquiesces, saying, “Little bit,” which Dad repeats back to her, “Little bit.” “You ready?” she asks. “I’m ready.”

Watch Casey closely.

Now, I want you to think of the awkward teenager that we all have inside of ourselves. The small, questioning, raw version of ourselves.  It asks,

“Am I going to risk it?”

“Am I going to put myself out there?”

“Will they laugh at me?”

Ultimately, we are asking “Can I handle the stage?  Am I enough?”

Casey does all of the subtle things to channel this version of ourselves.  She takes a measured risk.  She hums instead of singing, scans the store to determine how large her audience is, looks at her Dad’s face to reassure herself that he meant what he said, and makes stabilizing eye contact with him during the middle of the song.

Have you been there, dipping your toe in the water?  Deciding how much of yourself you would put out there? If you have, I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself.  There is a reason.

There was a time when your needed cheering the most, but the stands were empty. Or when the cheerleader’s words rung patronizing/ condescending/less than true. And your take-away. .  it stung.  It forever defined your gifts.  Worst of all, it defined your value.

If this happened to you, I ask you to slow down in this moment and take a deep breath. Lean in to your raw, fearful, not-enough self.  And this time. . . this time, watch Dad.

Hear your Father’s voice in the room with you.  See HIS face.  See HIS value of what you bring.

HE is proud!

HE is impressed and YOU are impressive!

And HE is the only one that can make us YOU believe it.

Please. . .

Lean in.

The world is wanting for you!