Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Letter to my Girl

Dear Beautiful Cora,

  Oh, my charming girl. You are so captivating with your strawberry blonde, bouncy ponytail, your sparkly blue eyes, and your adorable twirl-clap-stomp dance that you do to all the upbeat songs on the Frozen soundtrack. You just win people over with the way you wave and yell "hi!" to complete strangers (or sometimes offer them hugs and kisses) and the way your absolutely fawn over babies. You really are just too much to take in sometimes ... so much sparkle and energy and emotion.

 Beauty and charm all bursting out of your little 20 month old self. I do pray that you always know you are lovely and that you always have the confidence to pursue others.

  As you grow I hope to teach you all sorts of things, like to be sure and use moisturizer with sunscreen, how to braid your own hair (you can practice on mine), and how to file your fingernails. I'll teach you the importance of maintaining good eye contact and that girls should have firm handshakes, too. I'll tell you to ask people questions about themselves and encourage you to use that winning smile liberally.

  However, my prayer is that these lessons are only peripheral. Even if you use sunscreen everyday of your life, your skin will one day become paper thin and wrinkled. Your sparkly eyes will dim and that flouncy, bouncy hair will become wiry and gray. Beauty is fleeting, Cora.

  Even if you are masterful at capturing attention, making friends, or gathering a following; those interpersonal skills can be empty and lifeless. You may be able to win hearts, but if your heart hasn't first been won by the One who loves you best, it will be meaningless. Charm is deceitful, Cora.

  When I imagine you as a woman and pray for true beauty, the kind that doesn't fade or manipulate, this is what I ask for:

  I pray that your legs will be strong to carry you as you play. Whether kicking a soccer ball or dancing or running or pressing the pedals of a piano, play is such a beautiful expression of joy that I hope will stay with you even when your hair is gray. I want you to rejoice in what your legs allow you to do more than you worry about their shape. And if someday you cannot use your legs, I pray that you will show the world that playful joy is a condition of the heart, not a result of abilities.

  I pray that your hands will be calloused and your nails not always polished. Perhaps your fingertips will be tough from pressing guitar strings or from digging in the ground, or stained with ink or paint from creating. Maybe your skin will sometimes be dry and rough from the hot water of service - dishes, laundry, cleaning - for others as well as your own family. A woman's hands can whisper a story about her, and I pray that yours speak of generosity and hard work and selflessness. And if someday you once again have to rely on the hands of another to serve and care for you; I pray that you will show the world that dependence is not shameful and that to gratefully receive the service of another is to give them a gift.

 I pray that your stomach will swell with new life and that you will gratefully surrender your waist to welcome a new soul. I pray that you will laugh more than you cry about the changes; because of the beautiful absurdity of a temporary dwelling being used to usher in an eternal being. And if you are not able or choose not to birth biological children; I pray that you will show the world that the most important growth that happens in motherhood is the permanent swelling of the heart, and that God makes women mothers in many, many ways.

 I pray that your lips will laugh and speak and sing in ways that only bring life to those around you. Full, perfectly shaped lips, painted in the perfect shade, are really just lovely vessels for poison if they only pour out gossip and complaints. Wear lipstick, if you will, but I hope you will care more about what comes out of your lips than what goes on them. And if you find that you always sing off-key or that you stutter or your words never come out quite right; I pray that you will show the world, like Moses, that leadership is not dependent upon smooth talk or charismatic word choice.

 I pray that your eyes will be open and searching. I see girls sometimes with eyes that seem dead because they aren't looking for anything - they are just waiting to be looked at. I hope your eyes will always be searching for truth; looking for the lost, lonely, and hurting; soaking in the the beauty around you instead of wondering who is noticing your own. And if, one day, you can no longer see, I pray that you will show the world that the most breath-taking things in life are the unseen and invisible.

 I pray that your ears will be discerning. In this age constant information it can be easy to become gluttonous; but I hope that you will choose wisely who you listen to and that you will be able to filter out lies. You will be told all sorts of false things about yourself and other people - please don't believe a word of it unless it lines up with what your Maker has said about you and other people. I hope you will choose to listen to that which is beautiful, inspiring, thought-provoking.  And if your hearing fades and you find your world silent, I pray that you will show the world that you can still hear the voice of God, and I pray that the world will listen.

 I pray that your mind will be abundantly rich with ideas, hopes, and prayers. I hope you will treat your mind like a crown - choosing to forge it from the gold of wisdom instead of settling for cheaper metals, adding jewels of knowledge, polishing it through frequent use. And if your mind never works as dazzlingly as you would like, or if one day it disintegrates altogether; I pray that you will show the world that God delights in the humble and that the way your brain works does not define who you are.

 Finally, I pray that you will guard your heart, for regardless of how your outer person is seemingly succeeding or failing, your heart is what connects you to the Source of Life. When I was in college, I prayed Zephaniah 2:5 for myself all the time. Now I pray it for you. It says, "And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst." Let Him guard you, seek refuge in Him from those who would wound your heart. But don't close in on yourself ... let His glory reside in you and spill out of you. And when, one day, your heart ceases to beat; I pray that you will find yourself in the presence of Beauty personified and that you will be breathless as you see yourself transformed into His likeness.

 I love you, little beauty.


I'm participating in a writing group that my friend, Matt, put together for people who are looking to be encouraged to write more frequently. This is the seventh of 8 "assignments"

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

When Waiting in Shadows ...

I'm participating in a writing group that my friend, Matt, put together for people who are looking to be encouraged to write more frequently. This is the sixth of 8 "assignments" I'll be posting as a part of this project. I missed the fifth, so I'll have to circle back to it later. This assignment was to write a poem - something I used to enjoy occasionally in high school & college but haven't done in years.

The Shadow

  When our words don't match,
  His and mine, 
  And I can't puzzle them together;
  Ease of agreement nowhere to be seen
  As the darkening shadow falls.

  When provision seems scarce,
  Unpredictable, unsteady,
  The security of abundance is fleeting; 
  I sit and breathe deep, remembering manna,
  As the darkening shadow falls.

  When the doors don't open
  Though we knock and we knock,
  We can hear the bolts anchor them tight;
  It's chin up and good cheer and raise calloused fists
  As the darkening shadow falls.

  When my heart wants to open 
  But my mind shrinks in fear,
  Illusion of control is crumbling; 
  The whispering is fear but the persisting is faith
  As the darkening shadow falls.

  When the darkness surrounds
  And I can't see my way,
  But I stumble against soft, feathered breast;
  I know that the shadow is only His wing,
  And instead of fleeing I rest.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Pink Dress

 I'm participating in a writing group that my friend, Matt, put together for people who are looking to be encouraged to write more frequently. This is the fourth of 8 "assignments" I'll be posting as a part of this project. The assignment was to write something fictional, which is WAY outside of my comfort zone. While this story is fictional, it resembles the truth for far too many families.

 The pale pink dress hung, crammed into the back of the closet, shamed and rejected. The plastic bag from the formal wear store was askew and only pulled halfway down, leaving the crumpled bottom of the dress exposed, its tulle layers limp like a wilted flower. The dress had been shoved into exile in a fit of anger – it was a disappointment and the very sight of it brought feelings of helplessness and disgust to the 14-year-old girl who hated it.

  It was the wrong color.

  “Just don’t cause any trouble,” was the mantra that had rung in her ears for the past three years. “If you don’t get in trouble, they won’t start asking questions.” This was the reason her Mamá never complained when her paycheck was less than it should have been at the hotel where she cleaned rooms every morning. It was the reason her tía always drove their old Nissan Sentra at least 2 miles an hour under the speed limit. For the first two years that they had been in this country, their entire lives had been structured around 2 basic goals: avoid all interaction with law enforcement, and of course, get their papers. Inés didn’t really understand how the papers worked, but they always made her think of the golden tickets in that movie about the boy and chocolate factory she had seen once. Everyone she knew wanted them, but they seemed nearly impossible to come by. She had just started to believe they might actually achieve that coveted status of “legal”, which would allow their lives to move happily forward; when, about a year ago, everything had come undone. It was all her fault.

  When they had first arrived in the U.S. it had been a comfort to live with her aunt and uncle. She had felt so vulnerable and alone, barely speaking any English and homesick for her grandparents’ home where she had spent her childhood. She had felt secure, sleeping on the mattress on the floor with her sister who was just two years younger while mama and baby Victor shared the twin bed against the opposite wall. Her aunt and uncle, her mama’s sister and her husband, shared their room with their two little daughters, Luz and Susana. But then, Mamá had gotten Tía Beatriz a job with her at the hotel. The two women left before sunrise every morning, leaving Tío Lorenzo to make sure the older girls caught the bus and to care for the little ones until the women came back in the afternoon. He worked in the evenings, cleaning offices.

  Inés had been glad that all the adults finally had jobs, but she didn’t like being alone with Tio Lorenzo. She didn’t like the things he did to her in the early morning hours, when the women had left. For months she had been silent, believing his threats that he would kick them out of the apartment if she said anything at all. She had been brave and silent, to protect her family; but on the day when she couldn’t keep it in anymore she told her best friend, María, who told their social studies teacher, who called the police. María also told her Papá, who had been angry that the girls told their teacher about a private family matter. He had called Tío Lorenzo to warn him.  By the time the officers showed up at Inés’ apartment, Lorenzo was on a bus that was already in a different state, headed back south.

    “Why do you hate us? You are a little liar!” Tía Beatriz had screamed at her before she unleashed a string of obscenities. “You’ve ruined it for all of us!” The next day Beatriz told Mama that they had to leave and find their own apartment – that she couldn’t even look at Inés. Neither woman could afford to live alone, though, so the living arrangement continued as it had been, only Lorenzo was in Mexico and Beatriz no longer spoke to her niece.

  Mamá was more understanding. “You are a strong girl,” she had told Inés. She said she was proud that her daughter stood up for herself; and even though money was tighter than ever, Mamá said they would still plan a quinceañara to celebrate her fifteenth birthday. Inés had looked forward to her quince for as long as she could remember. She had dreamed of the music, being presented as a woman at mass, and the dance she and her friends would prepare. Most of all, she had dreamed of her dress. She knew she would feel like a princess in her big, white gown. But now … well, it wasn’t what it should have been. Mamá agreed that what had happened was Lorenzo’s fault; but she said it would be false for Inés to stand before God in Mass wearing a symbol of purity. They bought a beautiful dress that she should have loved – the perfect shape and style that should have made Inés feel like the princess she had imagined. But she didn’t love it. She hated it.

  It was the wrong color.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Encore, Encore!

 I'm participating in a writing group that my friend, Matt, put together for people who are looking to be encouraged to write more frequently. This is the third of 8 "assignments" I'll be posting as a part of this project. The assignment was to write honestly about something.

  I think it's those earliest, childhood vices that are the hardest to rid ourselves of. They become such comfortable friends that we barely even notice them, and when we do it takes some real persuading to become convinced that they're no good for us.
  For me, it's craving the applause of others that somehow always worms its way back into my motives. I am a quieter sort of person ... not quite introverted, but definitely not the star of the show. At least not the star of an actual, on an honest-to-goodness stage sort of show. But in my own mind? According to the script I have secretly been writing for as long as I can remember? Oh, I'm the headliner. No doubt about it.  In my mind I’m ever the heroine because it has always come so easily to me - earning applause, that is. 
  You get good grades! (clap, clap, clap!)

  You are responsible and follow the rules! (clap, clap, clap!)

  You work hard and are ambitious! (clap, clap, clap!)

  You love Jesus & lead Bible studies/ministries/go on mission trips! (clap, clap, clap!)

The trinkets stack up, little imaginary trophies won for my own performances. The shelves in my mind become crowded with medals representing the little compliments received here and there, with the occasional golden cup or winged woman for larger accomplishments. It can look like a shrine in there if I’m not careful – a cheap, brassy shrine that bows to my own ego. 
  Two things become really tricky when applause is your kryptonite:
  Firstly, people tend to take it less seriously than more noticeable sins. “Oh you’ve never struggled with pre/extra-marital sex/alcohol/an eating disorder/etc, so you wouldn’t understand.” I may not know what it is to be controlled by any of those behaviors, but I do know what it is like to constantly second-guess myself in an effort to not do right things with wrong motives. I know what it is like to feel like I’m spinning my wheels because I find myself daily seeking that which I know won’t satisfy. I know what it is like to consider my own sin and to see in it the very same glory-seeking desire that forever ended Lucifer’s fellowship with God. Please don’t tell me I’ve always been such a good person.
  Secondly, the things I’m normally seeking applause in are the things I’m supposed to be doing anyway. So, going cold turkey? Not really an option. I cannot just quit doing anything I ever get a pat on the back as a result of: “Thanks for helping out in the preschool class!” “We really appreciated that meal you brought by!” “I’m so glad you love teaching our kids about Jesus!” See what I mean? I can’t quit telling my kids about Jesus just because I sometimes feel prideful when a family member says I’m doing a great job or when my 3-year-old says something sweetly profound. As a result, I often find myself in a weird advance-retreat-advance-retreat sort of loop. I see an opportunity to use a gifting God has given me and I begin to pursue utilizing said gift in that arena. Someone says something kind. I feel good, maybe I feel proud. Wait … maybe I’m utilizing this gift just for the sake of my own pride? Now I can’t tell. I retreat.

  I don’t yet know if there is a way to kill off the egomaniac inside, or if her presence is just part of my faith journey, like Jacob’s limp or Paul’s thorn. Let me tell you what I do know … Matthew 6:5 warns against applause-seeking acts of righteousness, saying that those who engage in those behaviors, “have their reward,” in the earthly applause they are given. I am determined to seek a greater reward. It is so hard sometimes. SO hard. You may laugh, but there are times I have to whisper to myself, “His applause is better,” over and over again in order to rein myself in from performance Christianity.

  I also know that it is all grace. It is all grace that I was born to parents who raised me in a way that encouraged me to love Jesus. It is all grace that God has preserved me from some of the sinful behaviors that have more crippling consequences in this life. It is all grace I have some gifts that some people choose to rejoice in with me. It is all grace that I know Him. It is all grace, and it is not for my sake. It is for the sake of the hurting that He wants to love through me. Of course He loves me, but what He gives to me is for them, whomever “they” may be, so that they can see Him.

  Tear down that brassy shrine to myself, Jesus, and may I embody the words of the prayer, written by Amy Carmichael: 
 “Love through me, Love of God,
                          Make me like Thy clear air,
Through which, unhindered, colors pass,
As though it were not there.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book of Secrets

  I'm participating in a writing group that my friend, Matt, put together for people who are looking to be encouraged to write more frequently. This is the second of 8 "assignments" I'll be posting as a part of this project.

The tall man shifted his weight nervously as he eyed the journal from across the room. His face expressed a mixture of bravado, anxiety, and doubt. Though his straight back and squared shoulders were an attempt to display confidence, his fingers betrayed him, as they continuously curled into fists and opened again.

  His obvious ambivalence mirrored the mixed reviews he had heard over the years anytime the discipline of journaling arose in conversation. Some said it was one of the more helpful and meaningful experiences of their lives. They said it helped them clear their minds, understand their own thoughts, and free themselves of the heavy burdens they had been carrying. It was those words that had prompted him, in a moment of deep angst, to find a journal … any journal.

  But now, as he tried to prepare himself to sit down and write, he began to doubt all the good things he had heard. Maybe he had chosen the wrong one? This one had a tree embossed on the cover. Was that too feminine? Maybe he would feel more comfortable pouring his thoughts into a journal with a compass or an anchor on the front … perhaps just a black moleskin would be easier for his ego to accept. The words of the critics darted through his mind: “Journaling is for women.” “I tried journaling once, and writing out my problems just made everything worse.” “Journaling is just writing about your feelings and what you did today, it doesn’t make anything different.”

  “I’ll just try it out this once,” he mumbled as he crossed the room and pulled out his pen. “No one needs to know.”  It felt awkward, sitting there, trying to figure out where to begin and exactly what to say. At first he only wrote direct responses to some suggested journaling prompts he had found somewhere, but after a while he found himself chasing rabbit trails – mentioning random events and small details he hadn’t thought of in ages. As he closed the book and stood up, he decided he would try it again, just a few more times. It wasn’t really as uncomfortable as he had feared, and it had, actually, been a bit of a relief to get a few things off his chest.

  In the following months, he began journaling regularly. It was nice to know he could say whatever he wanted and it would be stored away privately where no one else would ever see it. Surprisingly, though, he found that being honest with his thoughts and feelings in one place made it easier to be honest with them elsewhere. The journal didn’t judge his stories. He had been afraid that being able to see, on paper, the kind of person he was would send him into a spiral of despair. On the contrary, bringing his secrets into the light had seemed to make them more manageable – he was able to see them as separate from himself, something he could overcome instead of a part of his very being. It was freeing.

  About a year later, as the man sat to write again, he realized he no longer had as much to say as he once had. For the past few months he hadn’t been writing as frequently, and today he thought that maybe it was time to put the journal on the shelf for a while. It had helped, but his life was different now. He no longer felt he needed to spend as much time exploring his motives and problem-solving … he just knew it was time to move on.

  The journal sat quietly on the shelf, absorbing his words into her pages so they disappeared, as if written in magic ink. He didn’t know that she silently cheered him anytime he walked by. He didn’t know that, even though this journal held many secrets for many, many people; she would think of him as her mind flipped through the rolodex of past authors and wish that he, along with so many of them, would someday jot a small note – just an update about how life had progressed.

Image Source
 It’s a funny thing, being a counselor. My clients see me writing notes in their files, but they probably don’t realize that their stories are being etched onto my heart. Over the years some of their names and faces fade from memory; but the weeks or months or years that they spent pouring out their hidden thoughts to me continue to shape me. I hope they know I am honored every time I am invited into the vulnerable places of their lives. I hope they know I think of them, root for them, pray for them. I hope they know they matter.