I’m All Inside Out

insideout2

October eleventh. A tiny crumble trickled down into the abyss of memory loss. Just a tiny crumb. The islands of my personality went from full color animation to unsaturated stillness. Joy, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, and Anger went into full panic, fighting over the control board.

“Find the happiness. Find the silver lining,” Joy instructed.

“What will happen now? How can we even live? Quick! Build up walls!” Fear paniced.

“Life is meaningless. Just pull the plug on it all,” moaned Sadness.

“The very thought of him with them. Bleh. Just puke. Right now,” spat Disgust.

“What the BLEEPEDITY BLEEP!?!? How dare he! He’s goin’ DOWN!” yelled Anger.

Over and over and back and forth. Fear pushed Sadness away from the controls. Anger shoved Fear aside. Disgust slinked in front of Anger. Joy tried desperately to calm everyone down.

After several days of this, Joy realized she had to take action. She began to bring up core memories… the important and joy filled memories that shaped the last 12 years of my life. She played them across the screen of my mind. But as they played, Sadness crept up to them and placed her cold blue fingers on each.

I began to see the memories through the hindsight eyes of reality and, one by one, the islands of personality have crumbled completely into the abyss of memory loss. Family Island… crash. Trust Island… crash. Friendship Island… crash. Goof-ball Island… crash. Introvert Island… crash. Parenting Island… Trickle, trickle, crumble, crash. Even Music and Writing Islands’ grayed edges began to collapse a little. Faith Island, while staying full color, quakes from time to time.

I’ve been left to look at the world void of much personality. I have no human reality on which to base my interactions in this world. I’m left empty and vulnerable and confused.

But a beautiful thing is happening. Bright orange construction signs are dotting the landscape of my mind. Islands are being built. Slowly, new personality islands are taking the place of the old. It’s a tedious process that has only just begun, but it’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Sadness has sidled up next to me, wrapped her arms around my heart and offered genuine empathy. She is teaching me the value of sadness… the depth that it brings to life… the lessons that it teaches… the growth that comes from it.

I noticed an “Opening Soon” sign on one of the new islands a couple days ago. Bold letters across the top read, EMPATHY ISLAND. As I look at the world around me, I see walking hurts. I want to reach out and hug them. I want to say, “I don’t know you, and I may not know the exact pain you’re feeling right now, but I know pain and I just want you to know you are loved.”

I’m not sure yet what’s coming soon to the other islands under construction, but I look forward to finding out. I look forward to getting to know this new defined me. There’s been a shift in the universe, and I am the epicenter.

The Journey of a Maple Leaf

mapleleafA crisp fall wind pushed its way through the branches, fluttering the last three pointed leaf wildly until it broke loose from its lifelong home. Up, up it soared and then back down again, diving into the picture window of the house it had stared at every day. Inside, a small girl huddled in the corner peering over the tattered ear of her teddy bear at her fighting parents.

Just as the leaf began to slide down the pane, the fall wind yanked it away to the windshield of the red car driving down the street. In the backseat, a little boy sobbed uncontrollably. “Shut up!” the woman behind the steering wheeled yelled as she impatiently flicked on the wipers.

The leaf flew to the side of the road and into a ditch, but before it could catch its breath, it was pinging between grave stones, crashing into one right after the other. Each stone bore the etched name of someone dead… someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, child. So much death. So much dreary coldness. Relieved to finally reach the other side of the graveyard, the leaf fluttered to the curb and lay silent for a moment, trying to forget the names it had slapped against.

Suddenly, it began to vibrate. What was that rumbling sound? It was getting louder and closer. Before it could find the answer, the leaf was forced into the air and pressed against the window of a passing city bus. It studied the face of the woman only inches away. Her eyes were distant and sad, and her hair hung in greasy lumps against her tear streaked cheeks. She gingerly pressed her fingertips against the glass separating her from the leaf, and as she did, it was pulled away once again by the invisible force of the autumn wind.

It pushed and pulled and tugged the leaf right into the revolving door of a tall business building. The clumping and clacking of sophisticated footsteps over and around it overwhelmed the fragile leaf. A rather large rubber sole trampled carelessly onto it and the leaf found itself stuck. Up it went, then down again, pressed firmly between the sole and the floor.

The breeze created by the man opening a heavy wooden door loosened the leaf and it fell freely to a cold marble tiled floor. The man plopped his brief case on the floor and leaned against the sink, glaring at his own reflection before him. “You really messed it up today, Max. When will you even learn?” He slammed his fist against the counter, picked up his briefcase and stomped back out the door, sending the leaf back into the swarm of feet.

“Everything is so sad and ugly,” thought the leaf to itself, as it lay face down on the shiney, hard floor. “What a useless, miserable existence!” It no longer cared if it the feet squashed or torn into its veins.

Suddnely it felt itself being curled and lifted by a chubby, little hand. “Weef, Mommy!” a high pitched voice exclaimed. “Yeah. You found a pretty one,” a woman’s voice answered. “I keep it?” the little voice asked. “For a little while,” the woman answered again. The leaf swung in short swoops up and down as the chubby little hand transported it through the revolving door and down the sidewalk.

The wind gusted, yanking the leaf from the clutch of the sweaty palm. Up and up it soared. It looked down and watched as the little hand waved. “Good bye, Happy Weef!” the squeaky voice called. “Good bye, one and only happy child,” the leaf called back.

The leaf found itself flying higher than it had ever been. Up higher than the towering buildings of the city. It looked down, saw the scurrying people, small as ants, the glint of the sun on the skyscrapers, and the orange and red powder puff tree tops lining the streets. What a breathtaking view!

It wanted to stay up there forever where there are no tears, no yelling, no death, no ugliness, but the wind force had other ideas. It plummeted the leaf straight down toward the river snaking through the city. The leaf was sure this was the end, but just as it was about to hit the water, the invisible wind caught it and cradled it.

Faster and faster it sailed, hovering just above the surface of the sun sparkled water, between the rows of orange and yellow and red. Other leaves joined it and together they soared over and through the mystical tunnel of beauty until the wind puffed, scattering them into their own journeys.

The maple leaf floated into a park and onto the back of a running dog. It found itself being jostled up and down as the furry beast playfully chased three giggling kids. This was fun! The leaf hung on as tight at it could and felt a giggle burst out from deep inside itself.

But the three pointed leaf could not hold on tight enough and it was soon zipping through the air, doing loop the loops and nose dives. “It feels good and happy to dance,” the leaf thought as it soared right between a man and woman holding hands and straight into the hair of a mother. The leaf inhaled deeply, letting the fragrance of her shampoo and perfume engulf it. Maybe life wasn’t so bad after all.

“Higher, Mommy!” The swing pushed the wind and again the leaf fluttered and swirled, this time landing inside a stroller right on top of a sleeping baby. The leaf lay as still as it could, feeling the gentle rise and fall of this tiny chest. It leaned in close and listened to the rapid heartbeat of this precious life.

Up it soared one more time, high into the vast blueness. The leaf looked down at the happy humans, young and old, loving and living in harmony together. It looked down at the sunlight glitter playing in the river and the colorful tree branches dancing in the autumn wind. It listened to the children’s voices and giggles. It smelled the scent of earth and leaves and coffee and life. Each sensation mixing with the other until it all melded into something so overwhelmingly beautiful that the leaf thought it just might burst.

The leaf’s journey had come to an end, and the invisible autumn wind gently floated it to a pile of other leaves at the base of a tall tree. “What did you see up there?” a small oak leaf asked.

“I saw that life is full of sadness and anger and dark death. It feels empty and cold,” the maple leaf answered, “But if you soar up high enough and see the bigger picture, the scene will engulf you with such beauty that when you have fluttered back down into reality, that’s all you’ll see.”

The three pointed leaf smiled and whispered, “I saw beauty.”

 

Photo Credit

Bring on the Carmel (Hold the Chocolate)

Megadim_Cliff_Mount_Carmel_-1Ok, so the title is probably a bit misleading. This post has nothing to do with candy. Is it about Carmel though… Mount Carmel. You probably know the story… how Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a god competition. (If you don’t know the story, you can read it here.) I’ve always read/heard the story with the idea that those stupid people who worshipped Baal needed to be put into their place. But when the story teller at our children’s Sunday night Pioneer Club retold the story, I heard something else.

Think about this… The prophets of Baal set up a proper sacrifice. They had a nice pile of wood, plenty of burnable material. They chose a bull, cut it into pieces and laid it on the wood. That right there is barbeque waiting to happen. They just needed Baal to bring the matches.

Elijah, on the other hand,  built an altar of stone. He dug a ditch around it, placed wood on top, and laid the pieces of bull on top of that. The ditch is a little weird, but ok. We can cook on stone. Then he turns to some people and says, pour water over it all. They did. Then he said, “Do it again.” And then “Do it again.” Everything was soaked. There was so much water, it filled the ditch around the altar. If you remember, Smokey Bear teaches us that water puts out a good campfire, so I’m thinking it would be pretty darn hard to start a fire when everything is that wet.

So we have barbeque waiting to happen and an impossibly soggy pile of meat. Those prophets of Baal spent all.day.long crying to their God. “Please, just light the darn thing on fire. We’ve even set it all up for you. Just one tiny spark should do just fine.” They cut themselves and danced. I cannot imagine the amount of physical pain and weakness they went through to try to convince their god to just show up for the picnic.

When it was Elijah’s turn, he prayed a simple prayer. “You are God. Answer me, Lord, so these people will know that you are the one and only God, and that you are turning their hearts back to you.” Immediately, the entire soggy mess burst into flames. The fire burnt up the meat, the wood, the stones, the soil, and dried up all the water in the ditch. Now I was under the impression that stone and dirt don’t burn, but this time, it did. If that’s not proof that He is real, then I don’t know what is.

How many times, though, do I prepare my sacrifice, and line up my dominoes perfectly, then pray to my “gods” to make things happen? I set it all up, and then I look to my husband or to my kids or to my friends or my ego or my “set your goals and achieve your dreams”ness… or whatever to make it all happen. I get so worked up, trying everything to get the attention of these gods. I mean, come on!!! It’s a barbeque waiting to happen; just bring the darn matches already! And all I get is crickets.

And God is there the whole time, waiting for me to just stop.

I don’t have to set anything up for God. I can bring Him the absolute most impossible, and it doesn’t phase Him one single bit. He simply reaches down from heaven and proves that He is real and that He can be trusted.

God is real.

He can be trusted.

He is a master of the impossible.

 

*photo credit

When Dream Houses Implode

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Sometimes, it feels like God thinks my life is one big joke, as if I am but a doll in his drama filled dollhouse. I can see Him sitting up there with his two buddies, Jesus and H.G…. “Hey guys, watch this!” He snickers. Then he knocks me down the dollhouse stairs or pulls a wad of hair from my head or yanks my arm off. The threesome all laugh wickedly, then rush out of the room to play something else, leaving me lying there in a battered heap at the foot of my dream house stairway.

I thought this pink dream house was going to be everything I wanted. It was perfect. My Ken doll was perfect. Our little kid dolls were perfect. Our pink convertible was perfect. My walk in closet full of flashy outfits was perfect.

But now, the shutters are hanging loose. The front door is stuck in a half open position. We’ve lost the potted flowers that sit on the front steps. Someone has scribbled on every single floor of the house with green crayon. The beautiful portrait stickers have been peeled from the walls, leaving only ragged white scum. My perfect Ken doll now wears a permanent Sharpied frown. My little girl dolls are sporting that ugly plastic-doll-hair-stuck-straight-up look. My little boy dolls hang their faces, decorated with Sharpie freckles, out the broken window pane of the upstairs bedroom. The rows and rows of sparkling outfits hanging in the closet just collect dust, because they were made for a skinnier, sexier version of me… a version I will never be again. And me… I lay battered at the bottom of my dream house stairway, wondering how I got there.

How does everything you’ve ever wanted in life suddenly blow up in your face? Doesn’t the dream house please God? Doesn’t He want us to be content… to love the home He’s given… to love the family He’s given… to throw ourselves into that dream house with all our hearts? Doesn’t He like it when we embrace the role of wife, mother, and homemaker? I thought that’s what pleased Him.

But now, as I lay at the bottom of my dream house stairway, I hear Him say…

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

“What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

“Brenda, Brenda, ‘you are anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary.’ To sit at my feet.”

And the truth sinks in slowly, but warmly. I have worshipped my dream house. I have made Ken my god. I have made the kid dolls my joy. I have made my sparkling outfits my security. I lay battered at the bottom of the stairs because this dream house has let me down. I lay here because Ken is not my god, these kid dolls are not my joy, and these outfits… these skinny, little outfits… they are not my security. They have all let me down. They have not been to me what I’ve needed when I’ve needed it most.

I poured my love and my trust into them, but they could not bear it. My love and my trust is God-shaped, not doll shaped or house shaped or skinny shaped. Nothing else can receive my love and my trust except my God, because only He can be trusted, and only He can return that love in pure and steadfast volumes.

He does not demand love, because He is a selfish love hog. He commands my love, because He knows my heart, my needs, the very depths of my being, and He longs to be…

my shield

my fortress

my hope

my joy

my strength

my rock

my refuge

my deliverer

my light

my salvation

my song

my security

my helper

my resting place

my steadfast love

the upholder of my life

…my God.

Because nothing else and no one else can be all that for me.

 

Of Tests and Wrestlings

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“He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’… So Abraham rose early in the morning…. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar…. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven…. ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’.” (Gen. 22)

I shoved my Bible away in disgust. What sort of cruel loyalty test is this? Is God some sort of fraternity bully, demanding insane proofs of loyalty before He allows peons to join His exclusive club?

Abraham’s stomach probably dropped to the ground when he heard the words “burnt offering”. He probably did not sleep at all that night as he weighed his options… kill my son to appease the God of the universe or anger the God of the universe to save my son. Perhaps it was with shaky legs and a nauseous stomach that he rolled out of bed that morning, skipping breakfast because he couldn’t keep it down anyway.

For three long days, the war raged inside him. He pushed forward, while everything inside him desperately screamed to turn and run the other way. How it must have broken his heart when Isaac asked why they did not have a sacrifice. Did he stumble and choke over the words “God will provide”? It doesn’t say whether he told Isaac at all what God had asked of him. Only that he bound up his son and laid him on the altar. It probably took every ounce of adrenaline in his body to raise that knife above his son’s body.

And then God said, “That’s enough.”

Are you freaking kidding me?? You demand his son, but then when he’s fighting against every bit of humanness inside of himself to simply please You, You tell him to stop? Were You just playing with him the whole time? What kind of maniac God are You?

I shoved back my chair and began to gather up my things. I can’t do this. Why would God ask that of Abraham? Why was He asking that of me? What sort of weakling did He think I was? Was He trying to prove something to me? That I was but an ant to Him, and He could squash me and every one I love with a slight pressing of His thumb?

As I stepped between the towering walls of forest, following the trail into its depths, I listened to the crunch of my footsteps. “I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to be alone,” they whispered over and over again. I stopped, thinking that maybe if I didn’t hear my footsteps, I wouldn’t hear the desperate whispers.

I jumped as a bird called from somewhere in the heart of the forest. “Alone!” it squawked. A silent tear trickled down my cheek. “I don’t want to be alone.” The sound of my words barely made it past my lips, but my heart was yelling so loudly my ears were ringing. I could feel that yell bubbling its way up my throat. It would be stupid to scream into an empty forest, so I just shoved my body forward. First, a slow step. Then a few more, faster this time. Soon I was jogging my way down the trail, paying no heed to anything around me.

I must have worked off the pent up energy, because I slowed to a stop and looked around. I knew I passed many forks along the trail, but I couldn’t remember if I stayed on trail 3 or got off on another one. I had no idea where I was. The nice thing about hiking trails at state parks is that if you keeping following them, eventually you’ll find some sort of trail marker or another human being.

I gathered up my wits, found a trail map, and set off in what I thought was the right direction. But the more I walked and the more trail markers I came to, the more confused I became. The more confused I became, the more angry I felt. I did not want to be alone! I wanted someone here right now to help me figure out these stupid trails. I wanted someone right now to laugh with me over my uncanny ability to get lost. I wanted someone right now to share this adventure with. “I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE!”

It took nearly three hours to find my way back to the inn, but I did find it. There was no feeling of relief, though… only intense resistance. How dare God bring me to this place! How dare He ask such sacrifice!

I tried to calm my body and my soul. I soaked in the hot tub. I painted. I watched TV. I tried to sleep. But the war inside me would not stop. My chest burned. My nerves vibrated. My thoughts were like a speeding train constantly jumping tracks. All I wanted to do was run as fast as I could away from this place. And so I did, first thing the next morning.

It wasn’t until that afternoon, that I finally got the word, “Stop! That’s enough!” I melted into a pile of exhausted goo, just resting in that warm, safe place.

I don’t know if I passed the test. I never really reached a point where I calmly accepted and resolved to sacrifice what He was asking of me. And maybe Abraham never did either.

Maybe God is not so much concerned about the final grade, as He is in the wrestling it takes to make our way through the test. Maybe it’s in that intense struggle that our weak human resolve is put through the fire to make us more Christ like. Maybe it’s not about passing. Maybe it’s about wrestling.

When Rotten Lettuce Condemns

lettuceWe had only twenty minutes before we had to be out the door and on our way to church. I rushed through the kitchen on the way to the laundry room to desperately dig through the baskets looking for clean underwear for my four year old. As I passed the end of the kitchen counter, I stopped in my tracks.

Is that…? Ew. It is. Right there on the edge of the counter, eight inches above the trash can sat my lidded glass bowl which once had a hand full of lettuce past its prime. It had been removed from the fridge and set there, waiting to be dumped into the trash. Life continued and I kept thinking I’d dump it right before the trash gets taken out or the next time I load the dishwasher.

I don’t know how a bowl of lettuce can go ignored for that long, but it did. My incredible glass bowl now held a blackish, slimy liquid, a perfect illustration of decomposition and the life cycle of the fruit fly.

Gross, I know. But what’s even grosser is what happened the moment I noticed it.

“Are you kidding?” my brain yelled at me. “Can you not even manage to clean your own dishes? Look at this house! Just look at it! You’re a complete failure. You can never keep it clean. You suck at parenting too. I mean, if you were a good parent, then your children would always pick up after themselves. You would be working alongside them, teaching them how to clean the kitchen and mop the floor and clean the bathroom. You would all merrily sing like Snow White and the seven dwarfs as you sweep those little puffs of dust out the backdoor. And speaking of your kids… what makes you think you can teach them at home? You fail everyday at that. I mean really, think about all those holes in your teaching. And now you’re going out the door to church where you will smile to every well meaning greeter and lie through your teeth that you’re “doing good”. You can’t even manage to make friends. You’re incredibly awkward and just plain weird. Besides, how can you be a true friend and invite them over when you have rotting lettuce on your kitchen counter?”

Yeah, it was that bad. I fought back tears on the way to church, pouted through Sunday school (being sure to hide it with my smile), and guilted my way through the church service. Why can’t I just get it right? Why am I such a failure in life? I condemned myself over and over and over again. I just want to be successful in something. I just need one thing… just one thing that I attempt to actually succeed… to be at least half way perfect.

I tried to pray about it this evening as I scrubbed the dishes and counters. But I didn’t even know how to pray or what to say. Do I ask Him to provide help? Do I ask Him to teach me to “man up”? Do I ask Him to show me what to cut out of my life, so I have time to do the most important things? (But there are no extras to cut out.) I just didn’t know.

But the Spirit did. He always does. He knew what my heart really needed. Romans 8 began to slowly pour over me and the tears trickled down.

lettuce2

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

“And we know that in all things (even bowls of rotten lettuce) God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one.”

And then the glorious part… What can separate us from His love? Bowls of rotting lettuce? Never. Dirty kitchen floors? Never. Failed attempts at producing a substantial income from home? Never. Imperfect parenting? Never. Half written novels? Never. In fact…

I am more than a conqueror in all these things through Him who loves me.

Did you catch that? I don’t have to be perfect to be loved. Who condemns me? No one.

In all my imperfectness, I am loved.

That last sentence should be repeated out loud in an awed whisper.

In all my imperfectness, I am loved.