Life can be messy, chaotic, and overwhelming, but when you change your perspective, you can see something truly beautiful, much like the inside of a kaleidoscope. When you turn the kaleidocope just right and look towards the light, you can see the most beautiful, intricate, unique picture, created out of a random array of beads and broken glass, or a mess.
But this summer just seems to have some weight to it.
This summer just feels like it is more than a few months in the sun, with school out, and family to see.
It feels like this summer needs to make up for last summer while also preparing us for the unknown of the year ahead while also healing us from the year behind us. <longest sentence ever, but that is how my brain spirals it out>
How? Is that even possible? Is that even what we should be doing?
As a teacher in a teacher family with school age kids, August has always had this feeling of the winding down of summer and the building excitement of a new school year. It is both amazing and sorrowful at the same time. Bittersweet.
But this year, it is different.
Are you feeling this too?
I find myself wondering if we did enough? See enough? Be present enough? Rest enough?
And I am finding myself exhausted, scared, and saddened.
And then I am reminded that it just will never be enough. And it doesn’t have to be. The next season is coming and that is filled with goodness and struggles too.
I was on my porch yesterday, as I often am during the summer days, and saw these sunflowers that have grown on their own accord in our front rocks…these beautiful gifts of sunshine and grace… and I found that several of them have completely fallen over..given up or succumbed to the pressure of either dogs or torrential rain.
It was as if these flowers also felt the heaviness of the final weeks of summer.
There is still many days left. Many moments to be had. Many moments to be still. Yet, sometimes the weight of it all, the expectation and the anticipation, just breaks us before we get to fully experience that moment. We give in before we have to.
We fall before it is finished.
Seeing these flowers falling on the ground so prematurely, as the trees are still vibrant green and the sun still brightly shining, reminded me to not turn the page on the season yet. August is heavy. It always is. This year is heavier, for whatever that reason may be, but it is not over yet.
But also, it is okay that this year just feels different.
Last year, at 36 years old, I got my first tattoo…quickly followed by second tattoo. I wrote about it here: Mountains and Valleys. I started thinking more about metaphors, symbols, and also I had learned about about leaning into the pain and leaning into the season.
After a series of many dark years, I learned that I am someone who likes to push forward or avoid my current situation in an effort to finding more pleasant experiences. I think that is rather typical for human nature: avoid pain, seek comfort. But, all this hiding from pain, or dreaming about the next thing, left me missing out on the current thing, even if the current thing is pain.
Through my heartache of depression and alcohol addiction, I learned that that by hiding from pain or suffering, you are not escaping it. Eventually, when you come out of the hiding space, it is still there, and oftentimes in a much more layered pile. Ugh.
Eventually I had to face it all.
Eventually I had to be present.
Eventually I had to learn the beauty and the growth that comes in the suffering and in the still.
There is beauty in all the seasons.
Life is a series of seasons.
A series of growth, abundance, death, rest.
A cycle of new beginnings, flourish, harvest, and still.
It is so fiercely rhythmic that it cannot be denied there is a gloriousness in the way our days unfold over time.
But still, we often forget about the roots in each of these seasons. The roots that spread, give life, and hold us up strong. Our roots do not disappear in the dark days. The growth does not cease, it is just not visible from the surface. Roots are essential to growth and to life.
It is so challenging to the human design to stay planted in our current season. We keep wanting to move ahead, or at least this is how I am wired. So, last year, with my new tattoos on my arms, I was paddling with my husband, sitting on the paddle board because the wind and the current had taken me a bit downstream, and I mentioned to him that I want to stay grounded in my current season. If it is good or bad, challenging or easy, I need to stay grounded in it because there is a lesson to be learned in it, plus life has taught me that the season will change. We have to show up for the lesson and suffer well.
I began drawing this preliminary series of four lines and a flower in all the stages of seasons, being sure to always have a root present. I have drawn this several times, always with the understanding that I am not an artist, but this is what I want and I want it on my foot as a reminder to stay grounded in my season. Keep my foot planted in the season. Stop moving.
Fast forward to this April, I got that tattoo.
And…since I am all about balance, I got a tattoo on the other foot too. I got an arrow. I had been thinking about this idea for a bit, but nothing as deep as my seasons, or my mountains and valleys, or my garden… but a simple arrow that reminds me that sometimes in order to propel forward, you have to pull back.
There is a story in everything. Each season teaches us so much. Share your stories too.
Plus, for anyone keeping count, yes, I have gotten 4 tattoos in 9 months.
I have never denied having an addictive personality.
Being a human and trying to do what you think is right is hard.
I am someone who acts. I take action. Leading is natural for me. I lead at home, at work, at church, etc.
However, has it become so natural that I do not think it all through?
I find that each time I try to do good, somehow I am left with more mess and more heavy, making me want to retreat and not move/engage/breathe at all.
Maybe you have felt that too? You try to help only to unlayer more layers of this awful onion of issues. All issues that need to be addressed and all issues that are valid. This is applicable in relationships, workplace, parenting, oh man is it applicable in parenting, and just life. You want to keep helping and keep fighting for what you think is right but you find yourself just so exhausted by the battle.
I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I have been praying about it endlessly. What is my role to play? What do I need to do?
And then, I was given the image of a lion and an eagle.
Lions: fierce, mighty, strong, protective, leader
but lions are also terribly destructive. They leave a trail as they move to act, breaking branches or stomping on grass to make their move.
but eagles are also precise, calculated, observant, and leave little trail of destruction in their decisions to act. Eagles, because of the gift of flight, can swoop in and swoop out, never destroying the area around their course of action.
Be more like the eagle.
An eagle has the gift of impeccable sight, seeing eight times farther than a human and can focus in on the object of their vision. They fly from a distance, but are constantly watching around them. They soar, let’s not say hover, but soar around making informed decisions of when would be best to act and what part is theirs to play.
A lion’s roar can be heard from as far as five miles away. Talk about calling attention. What is the purpose of the lion’s roar? To know it is there. Yes, there is a time to use your voice. Absolutely. But, are you calling attention to yourself or are you calling attention to the issue? Are you listening or are you roaring? The roar insights fear, not love.
I have been thinking about this analogy for a few days and then my family and I went for a walk in the woods yesterday. As we were walking, my children screamed, “Eagle!” and up above us was an eagle, majestically flying around above us. This eagle, was gliding through the air, observing the world around it, and making decisions on when and how it should act. The eagle did not interfere with our walk, just made it more beautiful by its presence, and there was a peace in knowing it was there.
I say this as a human, not the mouse or fish it was stalking.
It has made me think…am I leaving a trail of destruction in my effort to do good? Or am I making precise and thoughtful decisions towards the goal of love, unity, and restoration? Am I providing peace in my presence or intimidation?
I also have this thought process that all the problems are mine to solve. How heavy of a burden that is to carry and a burden I placed on myself. I have a role to play, but from a place of observation, I can see my part…and also see other people’s parts. I need to allow others to act and trust that all the pieces come into play. I cannot control my spouse’s actions, or my friend’s actions, or my coworker’s actions. I do not know what is going on in their heart and what they feel called to do. But, I have to give them space and time to do their part of the story. By trying to manage it all, I am taking away their opportunity to act.
Action is necessary. Taking out bystanders in my path to act is hurtful.
Being a human is hard enough. Thoughtful, precise, and purposeful action based upon observation and reflection might be the kinder, more loving way to move us.
Be more like an eagle and less like a lion.
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Thank you for sitting with me and hearing my story. I am so grateful to have shared the darkness of my journey and put it in the light. None of this is easy, but as we’ve learned, the easy stuff doesn’t help us grow.
We have walked through my fall, the valley and the rescue, and my climb. But, before we finish up our conversation, I think it is important that we glance back to know how to move forward. I say glance, because a glance is a quick look, rather than a deep stare, focusing on the past. I do not think it does anyone any good to live in the past, but we do need to look to the past, learn the lessons that seasons taught us, and move forward. Move forward.
This season..this fall, valley, and climb has taught me some pretty big life lessons. Lessons that shape how I view the world now..and hopefully how I continue to view the world as I grow in years.
Lesson 1: It is sometimes necessary to fall, to break, to crumble.
As I sit here with you, I am filled with gratitude for this journey. I know that sounds counter-cultural. But, genuinely, I am really grateful to have been brought so low because it was in this experience that I was able to rebuild and realign who I am and what I value.
Lysa TerKeurst writes about this breaking in her book It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way She speaks of how when we are shattered from big moments like this, we turn to dust.
What if, this time, God desires to make something completely brand-new? Right now. On this side of eternity. No matter how shattered our circumstances may seem. Dust is the exact ingredient God loves to use.
We can see dust as a result of an unfair breaking. Or we can see dust as a crucial ingredient.
Dust doesn’t have to signify the end. Dust is often what must be present for the new to begin.
And that’s one of the most devastating realities of dust times in our lives. We need the world to stop spinning for a while. We need things to pause. We need the celebrations to cease long enough to work through our grief.
Lysa TerKeurst, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, chapter 2, Dust
I am totally okay with the fact that I was broken down to to dust to be restored into something new. My life, the path I was on, was not healthy. I had gotten off from the path that was designed for me. I needed a massive crumbling to be restored.
Sweet friend..if you feel everything around you crumbling…let it fall. Let it break. Stop trying to glue it back together. Rather, let it shatter so that it can be created into something brand new. Let it break and then rebuild.
Lesson 2: Suffering can show you your strength.
I was feeling so weak, so broken, so lost. When asked to use words to describe myself in therapy, a cycle of self-deprecating words circled around my head. I could not think of one kind word to describe myself. But now, on the other side of the valley, having fought through the climb, I have been shown just how strong I can be. How fierce I can be. I needed to be reminded that I can fight for better. I had to lean heavily on God for strength when I was far too weak to help myself. With each success, each small win, I gained momentum to know that I could do things.
You can do things too. You are strong. And if you aren’t feeling that strength, then yoke on to someone else’s strength until you can start to feel your wins. Search for your wins. Build the momentum. See how incredibly resilient you are.
I have lived and overcome something that was debilitating to me. Now, when faced with challenges, I am reminded of what I have done and how far I have come. Then this new challenge is not as challenging anymore. I was once crushed but I am okay now. When another valley comes, which it will, I will remember this time and remind myself of the strength I had to get through this. I will be better equipped to handle the next climb. My struggle happened before the pandemic hit. So, when the pandemic hit, my heart was ready for it. We could do this. This wasn’t my hardest season…but my hardest season had prepared me for this hard season.
You glance back. Remember the strength. You keep going. You keep moving.
That just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.
We can do a lot of things. Our freedom will allow it. But at the end of the day, it will take our life from under it.
Consider your holiness-versus freedom issue, even now. If you know somewhere deep down inside that something is coming between you and God, in any season, do you pursue getting rid of it, or do you justify keeping it for as long as possible?
Lisa Whittle, Jesus Over Everything, Chapter 4, Holiness Over Freedom
Boundaries and saying no to things you have the ability to do, is hard. Setting firm lines on what is good for you and what is not is hard. However, once the line is drawn, knowing this is not serving me, helps make all the other decisions much easier.
I do not drink. I can drink. But, I know that it clouds my judgement and I do not like who I am when I drink. I know that I most likely will not just have one drink if I have a drink. Therefore, I have chosen that my tight line is no drinks for me. Since I made this clear boundary for me and those close to me know this line, decisions are easy. I can go places and I do not wrestle with “should I?” The decision is already made.
These boundaries help me to be the most peaceful me. I used to think that denying myself something was punishing myself, but now I see them as ways of protecting myself and also loving myself. This is freedom.
Lesson 4: Everyone is struggling with something.
Everyone has a struggle. Life is hard and no one gets through without having to tackle some deep valleys. While some have very visible struggles, many struggles occur behind the scenes or in their hearts. If you know that everyone is struggling than it helps you set your heart to have a posture of love and grace for them.
We do not need to know, or have really a right to know, what that person’s story is.
If they chose to share their story, cherish that privilege, and respect their vulnerability.
Respond with love.
But, most likely, we do not know everyone’s story. Yet still, we need to strive to respond with love. I know I fall short on this often, but I am really trying to respond with love. See people first as people, not their title or their duty or their shortcomings, but as a person. Show love, grace, and kindness because being a person is hard.
Lesson 5: You have to show up for the lesson.
Life is going to take you to some hard places and each one will teach you something, grow you in some way. But, you have to show up for the lesson. You are going to go through the hardship either way, so please do not let it be in vain. Let it teach you what it is meant to teach you. Let it grow you so that you are prepared for whatever season is coming next. Pay attention. Feel the feels. Learn the lessons.
Lesson 6: new mountains…new valleys.. and God is greater than it all
This is where I am today. On this side of the valley. I would not say that I have conquered this mountain because, well, I think it would be naive to think that one can conquer a mountain such as this. However, I am comfortable with where I am in the climb.
Life is a series mountain ranges….peaks and valleys…climbs…rest…growth..sorrow and joy. To think this is the only hard thing I will face is naive. Life just is not like that. But, I will use this story to help me fight through the next one. I will use this story to teach our children about perseverance and struggles, as they will have them too. I will use this experience to be a reminder of how big God is and how He is so much greater than the highs or the lows.
If you are struggling with alcohol addiction or abuse, I urge you to find your people to help you.
If you are walking beside someone with alcohol addiction, I urge you to walk with love, truth, and grace. The person you love has already filled themselves with enough judgement and self-deprecation, that they do not need to hear any additional hurts. Be their strength while they find theirs. Be their advocate.
Resources that I love:
Jesus Over Everything by Lisa Whittle
It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst
To tell any story, I guess we should start at the beginning. I am sure there are a lot of people reading this wondering, what happened?! See, I do a half-decent job of covering things up because I am an Ennegram 3 and care far too much about appearances and how people see me. So, I did the things needed to play the role of a middle-class, thirty something mother, wife & teacher, until I didn’t.
I suppose we should go back to 2015. I was pregnant with our third child and also in school to get my administration license. We thought doing both these things at the same time was a good idea. It was and I am grateful for it, but still, it was a lot. After the birth of our daughter in the dark days of November, I noticed that it was really hard for me to snap out of postpartum depression feelings. Mostly because you cannot snap out of postpartum depression. It does not work that way. But, I tried.
I also was invigorated by career opportunities that were coming my way with my administration license. These opportunities gave me the drive to keep going. I focused heavily on my career because I felt like I could do that. My emotions were spiraling but I could do this. I heaved ahead. And personally, I was able to lose the baby weight and seemed to feel like things were coming together. But they weren’t. I had just buried my emotions under piles of distraction.
The next school year I had an amazing opportunity to become a literacy coach. It was huge for me. Dream job. I dove full in. I had to travel away from my family, which is a big deal for a teacher and a mother of 3…with our baby less than a year old. But, I was in. I was in, in. I gave it all to this opportunity for a full school year. I was feeling good about everything and pushing through. I had distracted myself from any of the ick in my heart of postpartum feelings by only focusing on work.
and then it fell.
After a year of training, four weeks out of state away from my family, countless hours doing additional learning, countless days out of my classroom with a guest teacher…the position was pulled across my school district. Everything I had given myself to was gone.
along with it went my identity and my distraction.
Now, I think it is important to note here that now, a few years out from it, this is exactly what needed to happen. I am very happy in my classroom and love what I get to do. I am grateful for all the training I have had because it helps me in so many capacities within the classroom. And my family… I am so grateful for the lessons I learned about priorities and to shift the focus back to my family. I know that this situation had to happen for my heart to realign some priorities. But, at the time, it was devastating.
When everything was pulled, summer was just beginning. Summer meant no structure. Summer meant Summer Shandys. So, Summer Shandys I drank.
Fall came and I switched to Blue Moons.
Winter came and I continued with Blue Moons.
Summer came and I learned about White Claws.
All those feelings of postpartum that I had buried under my work? Well, they grew into full depression..also because it is hard to say it is postpartum when that newborn is now a year and a half old. Now I also got to add shame and regret for my misalignment with my priorities to the layers of negative emotions I had. Regret from all the time I wasted away from my family. How can one pretend there isn’t any depression?
That baby weight I lost? It came back and then some. Which also led to more depression especially with my history of being 23 years old. 300 lbs.
Heavy depression that was getting heavier each day.
Things started small with a drink because it was summer…then a drink because it was a less than great day…then a drink because it was a great day…then a drink because it was the weekend…then a drink because it was Tuesday.
And somewhere along the way… a drink turned into six.
I had fallen. Fallen hard. It was now 2018 and I was in the worst depression of my life. I have had two hard depressions and this one shook me the hardest because now I had a husband and children. It was not just about me anymore.
Should a career blow cause this much devastation? No. But, my heart was misaligned. I allowed that role in my life define me. This needed to be adjusted and it took this fall to show me that.
Should I rely only on myself to fix myself? No. But, I thought I could…until I clearly couldn’t and then I felt compounded shame that I was not strong enough to fix this myself.
Should this have happened? No. But, I am grateful it did. I’ll explain…
I noticed something in myself recently. A heaviness. A hardening. Maybe you have felt this too.
This need to protect yourself from the criticism, the opinions, the angst that has been walking beside us for this season.
I felt like there were all these rocks flying at me.
In large conversations,
in subtle statements,
in words not said,
All these hard rocks just coming at me.
And I did not react in love like I should. Instead, I started collecting rocks with the thought process to throw rocks back.
This is challenging to admit, but it is truth. When I felt criticism or harshness I started to find faults in their choices, in their paths, in their lives. I started to compare and find ways to acknowledge the “at least I am not doing that” thought process. Ugly right? So ugly.
My faulty thinking and really, it was not intentional, but rather something I noticed after and realized I had been doing, was finding things to armour myself from anticipated criticism when I was feeling like everything was just getting too heavy.
I was collecting retaliation rocks.
But the thing about collecting rocks is, it just makes you even heavier. So much heavier. Think of your pockets and if they had actual rocks in them for each negative thought you had about someone else. Heavy upon heavy. It weighs you down.
Think about where we find rocks. They are always on the bottom. They layer the bottom of our lakes and oceans. If you carry too many rocks, you drown. The heaviness over takes you and you physically cannot overcome it. This is not how we were designed to walk.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2: 4-5
We were designed to be merciful and full of grace. We were designed to be forgiving, because of how much we have been forgiven.
I have not been my kindest, most gracious self this season. I went into this weird survival and self-preservation mode. But at its root, we began to self-destroy because we allowed our hearts to get so hard. Did you do this too?
So then we enter the world with hard hearts and interact with other people who maybe aren’t at their best and also have a hardened heart… grace really struggles to show up there.
We know we are not our best selves and yet we expect everyone else to be their best. Solid reflection on that.
The only way we can stop this cycle of hardening and rock collecting is to stop picking up the rocks.
Stop taking the offenses. Stop taking notes. Stop planning your retaliation. And act in love.
Drop the rocks. Give grace. Love one another. Even in the hard spots. Especially in the hard spots.
After I dropped my own rocks, I noticed a lightness in myself. I noticed this freeness.
Some comments are just comments.
Some opinions are valid and worth reflection.
Some critiques will help me grow.
And some things, I just do not have to give any value to.
Drop the rocks.
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.
Don’t let your love grow cold. Drop your rocks. Let them freeze. And open your heart to love one another.
This mess does not stop at our tree either. Typically this mess would give me quite a bit of actual anxiety and cause me to be rather nasty to everyone I love. But, for some reason, it is different this year.
It is December 27th. I walk through my home and I hear our girls playing together in one of their rooms. I see our son at our dining room table turned Lego central, building what must be his sixth Lego kit. My husband has been grinding our coffee beans and drinking several cups of hot coffee while building with our kids. I finally showered, since..ahem… Christmas Eve. We have really soaked in the days after Christmas to just be together and it has been amazing.
Anyone in the generation one step above mine, with kids grown or who have left the house, have made it clear that Christmases like this are for a very short season in life. Soon the sounds of screams on Christmas morning over the perfect toy, the wonder of how these toys got here, which toy to play with first, will be replaced by Christmas brunches with most of your kids, if you are lucky, as they start spending Christmas with their significant other’s family. Your trees will be perfect and orderly as no one will be touching them. The mess will be cleared as soon as it is made, if it is made. The wonder of it all fades away as your children age.
I am a bit… or rather a lot… particular about our house. If you have ever been to our home, I am particular about making sure things like the toilets are always clean (we can’t let anyone know that we actually poop), the counters are cleaned off, and things are in some order for use to live in an efficient manner. Also, quite honestly, I like when our house looks nice. There I said it. I care a lot about appearances and I want our home to be functional but mostly, look nice.
This makes me super fun to live with. Also, it is hard on my mind to keep up with it all. It exhausts me. So much. The guilt and the struggle, the frustration and the anger I have towards myself for not just letting things be, but also the genuine anxiety I get with clutter and mess. It is just a whole thing in my mind, that the people I love the most get to experience from the front row.
But, right now, things are different. We are on a pause from life and it feels so good. As a teacher married to a teacher, we worked right up until Christmas Eve, in what we can all describe as a very different year. Our family, as with many families have experienced a lot of tragedy this year, life just keeps taking some hits, and we have not had a moment to even process them. Everything just keeps coming at us and life keeps going but this week, right now, in the days between Christmas and New Years…we have no plans because you can’t have plans this year and we are just being here, with each other, in our joyful mess.
We aren’t rushing the moment along. We aren’t yelling at our kids to get their stuff together for school, in whichever learning model they are in. We aren’t meal planning or grocery shopping. We aren’t worried about the laundry because pajamas for tomorrow sounds really nice. We are playing. We are building. We are napping. We are being together.
We can’t do this forever. We will have to return to the world soon. But for right now, I am going to soak in the mess. This is the most rested I have felt in a very long time. The most calm I have felt. The most present. The most loving. We are giving our family this time to just be and to enjoy one another.
I am grateful for the women ahead of me who have spoken such truth into me about enjoying the right now, as the season is fleeting. These women remind me about the loneliness of a clean family space. The heartbreak of sharing your children with another family. The sorrow that comes with the great joy of raising your children to be adults with their own lives.
Therefore, right now, we will enjoy our mess.
We also ran out of trash bags, so that has been a real hangup on the whole cleaning up thing. The tree is raining needles, making it painful to walk by it, and the trash is really piling up outside. We will have to pick up tomorrow so that we can continue to play but have the space to do it well. And…the mess is starting to get to my husband. Maybe he has more of my mind then we thought.
When a tree experiences trauma, like a storm, its trunk is permanently impacted by that moment. It can and will keep growing strong and tall, but will forever show markings of that moment.
The other reason a tree may have this unique bend is because it was not getting what it needed from their current position, so the trees trunk began to grow in the direction where it would receive the light it needs to survive. Permanently marked because it fought to survive.
We have all been marked by an experience, experiences, or moments. We have scars from when we fell on our bikes as kids. We have scars from when we have the chicken pox. We have scars from surgeries we have had. We have changes in our skin from children we have grown in our bodies. We are marked by life. Our markings tell our story.
My body is full of scars. I have had several surgeries throughout my lifetime, lots of falls, a real unfortunate treadmill fall, and lots of damage done to my body by myself over time leaving me with a lot of loose skin, lots of markings, and lots of stretch marks. My body is marked by my life experiences. Your body is also marked by your life experiences.
When our son was 4, he had an unfortunate run in with a golf club to his eyebrow. You could see bone when you looked at him. After a series of stitches and being oh so brave, our boy who did not have any permanent marks yet, got his first real scar. I remember thinking how his face would never be the same again. He was changed. He was marked. And now, when I look at our sweet boy, his inch long scar over his left eye is a symbol for the time he was a total badass and allowed a doctor to sew his eye brow without having to be held down.
Two of my favorite little people are covered in scars from multiple surgeries starting just moments after their birth. Being friends with their parents is one of the best gifts I have ever received because they have shown me perspective, the ability to persevere, and so much love. These little people who are now ten and seven, are two of the bravest individuals I know, next to their parents who had to watch it all happen. Their bodies are full of scars, some that can be hidden under clothing, and some that are out for the world to see. I love the ones that are there for the world to see because to me, it shows their strength, their badassness, and their ability to take on some really hard things and do it with amazing grace. Their scars give me strength to tackle the hard things. I pray these two little ladies grow up showing off their scars, not hiding them, because of the strength they represent. Their families are doing an incredible job of empowering these fierce firecrackers to know how strong they are and how amazing their scars are.
Scars, markings, the left behind reminders of a season are not a bad thing. They show us our strength. They need to be better celebrated and acknowledged. They lead to someone’s story and someone’s heart. They can also show you how far you have come, how much you have grown, and remind you of your own perseverance.
Not all scars or markings are left on our outsides, most often it is our heart that takes the most marks. Can you imagine what our hearts (not the beating one) would look like if all the pain and suffering we experienced internally left an actual marking. We need to acknowledge that internal marking that no one else sees, but we feel. We have felt it and continue to feel it. That shifting, that struggle, that growing, that strength brought on by suffering, pain, joy, and life.
We are coming to the close of what for many of us has been our hardest year. If it was not your hardest year, I think most of us can agree it was a challenging year. For some of you, I want to acknowledge that this may have been a joyous year marked by some global ick as you experience pregnancy or welcoming a baby home. I am so happy for you and want to encourage you to scream your joy out loud, for we all need to hear those great things too.
The thing is, I see people running at 2021 wanting to get as far away from 2020 as possible and forget it all behind. Don’t. Let this year leave its mark. Reflect on what ways you have been changed, shifted, fought to survive, impacted by trauma, and yet, you made it. Let the year leave its mark so that in the future, when you experience more hard, because you will, you can remember that you made it through this hard. You made it through stronger. You grew on tall and strong. You adjusted, much like the tree, in order to survive the changes. You are going to need these reminders because hard will come again and it will not magically disappear on January 1, 2021. Life just does not work that way. But you have changed. You are stronger. You have markings that show that you have grown, you have lived, you have survived. Let this season mark you.
Or you can be like me and get your first and second tattoos at the age of 36…in 2020, deciding it is time for you to choose what marks you.
I love Christmas. It is by far my favorite time of the year. My Grandma Fran loved Christmas. When I think of my Christmas memories so many of them involve the way she did Christmas, even though she passed away twenty five years ago. She left a huge legacy on all my Christmas traditions and my deep love of this season. The ribbon candy on my table, the Santa ornament on my tree, the appetizers on Christmas Eve, the reading of The Night Before Christmas. These are all beautiful and cherished memories that I am so grateful were rooted into my childhood and life.
I also know this post-Christmas down. Maybe you have felt it too, when all the gifts are opened and all the traditions are done, and you are left with more stuff, more mess, and a little feeling of disappointment or sadness. It gets me every year. I want the joy of Christmas to last forever.
But this year, this year looks different for me. This year, we have invited Jesus to His own birthday celebration. If you have been around my writing for more than a minute, you know that my life drastically changed a year and a half ago after I felt Jesus pursuing me for years and I finally gave my life to Him after I had made such a mess of my own doing.
So, this year, Jesus is center in our celebration. Santa gets a nice nod because I do love a good tradition and my grandma would for sure assault me from Heaven <that is not gospel truth but stick with me> if we did not bring Santa to Christmas. But, our family is doing things a bit different this year.
This year we are doing Advent for the first time as a family. I mean, actually reading from the Bible each night, not just eating the chocolate. We have been eating the chocolate for years. Advent is beautiful. Advent takes my favorite day of the year and makes it a four week celebration of hope, peace, joy, and love. Every Christmas carol I hear now, like O Holy Night brings forth such emotion because they are about our Savior coming. Advent honors the wait and anticipation we feel during the Christmas season. The wait for Jesus’ arrival and for God to come to live with us on Earth. The wait feels different this year because it is so good when He does come.
Traditional Christmas songs and philosophy gets me differently this year. I think about this concept of naughty and nice, which was something we never really brought into in our home, but still it is front and center in secular Christmas culture. We sing songs with lyrics like
He’s making a list,
He’s checking it twice,
He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Yet, Jesus came for us all. He knew we are all a mess and we all struggle with something and He came for all of us. Everyone can get the gift He brings because He came to save us all, naughty or nice.
Christmas is about God becoming fully human and living with us, Emmanuel means “God with us.” He came in the most humble of ways to save us. In a world, two thousand years ago and today, that focuses on money, stature, appearance, and power, Jesus came as a baby to poor parents, in a Middle Eastern country, to grow to be short and unattractive, still poor, and lacking governmental power. Yet, He was God. Constantly tempted, yet perfect. Feeling all human emotions, the joy and the suffering, yet obedient. He served others. He sat with the untouchables or social outcasts. He healed. He listened. He taught. He wept for the ones He loved. He wept for Himself knowing the horrible suffering He would endure to save us all and then silently gave Himself over for His own crucifixion. Jesus.
If you do not know Jesus as this loving, kind, serving, forgiving, and yet very confusing person, I encourage you to get to know Him, for yourself, not by what man tells you about Him. Read four books in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Read just these four and get to know Jesus. Not religion, but Christianity. Not the laws and rules and hand-slapping of religion, but the hope, peace, joy, and love that is Jesus. If you need a Bible, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get a Bible mailed to you!
This year is hard. Everyone knows it and I have written these exact words “this year is hard” in almost every post I have written this year. This is the year that we need hope, peace, joy, and love more than ever. So while I completely love the tradition of Santa and all the joy the celebration of him brings, this year I need to tie myself to the one who lasts all year. The one who truly came to town and truly brought the best gift ever. Salvation from a messy world. Isn’t that what we all want right now, to be saved from this messy world? It has come. He has come and we get to celebrate that this Christmas. Right now. This season.
On December 26th, or really, December 25th at 7 in the morning, when all the gifts are opened, because our kids don’t sleep past 5am on Christmas morning….this year, I will not feel the Christmas disappointment when it is over because the greatest gift we can get has already been given and it continues with us after the gifts are open. We are given a Savior who is hope, peace, joy, and love. This continues throughout the year and through our life between two gardens. Anchoring to Him, who is with us all the time, not just on one day, is the best gift we can receive.
For amazing resources to get to know Jesus better, consider checking out She Reads Truth.
we are all made of many pieces in one really messy puzzle
vulnerability and authenticity
These are two traits that I have come to realize are extremely valuable to me.
What you see of me is who I am, in all settings. However, they are just pieces of me.
The smiling family photo.
The piles of laundry in the corner of our bedroom.
The row of degrees that fill the top of my resume.
The deep need for naps on weekends.
The methodical lesson planning.
The unkind word spew when I am tired.
The loud, energetic story teller.
The withdrawn wallflower.
The put together, trendy, and with wedged boots.
The unshowered, messy bun, have I brushed my teeth yet today?
The one who is pushing through.
The one who has surrendered.
The human mess.
These are all true of me. Every single time.
I bet some of these are true of you too, but I also know you have other pieces.
I am not faking it. Those smiles you see are real, but so are the tears and the push through. The calm is followed by the chaos. I am all these things and each time you see a piece of it, do not think that there is not more to it.
We have a saying in my circle, “layered onion.” We are all layered onions. There is so much more there than what is first seen and it does not mean that we are hiding anything or building walls, but sometimes, you are seeing a piece. An authentic and often very vulnerable piece.
But we are all much more than one simple piece.
I have come to the understanding that being known and deeply understood is really important to me. I love deep relationships and really struggle with small talk. I love when I have the opportunity to know someone’s heart and to share my heart with them. I take it as such a gift when people lower their walls and let me in. I know that this is a huge privilege as many of us walk around with fortresses covering anything beyond weather conversations. But, we were made to know each other on much more profound levels and to be deeply known.
The only way to be deeply known and deeply loved is by letting people see the pieces. That takes a lot of courage. Vulnerability comes easy to me but I completely recognize that it is not the same for everyone. However, offer a piece.
And on the other side, when you see a piece of someone, also remember it is only a piece. We have areas where we really rock it and also areas where we completely sink. Do not allow yourself to be fooled into thinking others are hitting levels you think are not possible for yourself because of the pieces you see. When you see that person doing amazing in one area of their life, celebrate and honor that, but also remember that they probably have areas where they are really struggling. Remember, pieces and layered onions. These people who are straight up slaying it in some areas might be fighting really hard to do so and need your encouragement and still need your love because they are probably fighting some hard mental things to gain that one win.
I know this because I am this. But, I also know this is true for everyone because I have been a human long enough to know that everyone has a struggle. Allow me to share a few of my pieces to help paint the picture of how messy our puzzle pieces are:
I am currently mentally stronger than I have been in years but life is throwing a lot at our family, as with many of yours right now. I am still showing up at school and doing my best. I smile and encourage. I help facilitate professional development and I suppose, from the outside, I present a picture of someone who has their stuff together. I am genuine when I smile, encourage, and walk beside my peers in this unknown world of teaching in a pandemic. But also, I come home and am spent. I am quiet and withdrawn to recharge my batteries. I need weekend naps and rest. I have cut down how much I even build some of my other relationships right now because I am so worn down from trying to do something that is very new and ever changing at school, while also trying to focus on loving my spouse and our children well in a very hard season. Both these sides are very, very real and very true of me.
And if we take it back two years, I was coming off a huge opportunity to grow as an educator, having just done a ton of additional training out of state for a year, and was building my resume in huge ways at school, but also was privately struggling with the second largest depression of my life which lead to me having a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol, which in many ways stole a few years from me. Since then, I have grown significantly in realigning my values and have now been sober for over six months and fifteen months since my last bout with alcohol where I walked with a lot of shame. However, both of these sides are very, very real and very true of me.
We are more than our smiling faces. But, please do not dismiss the smiling face as a fake face. Rather, we can all try to see more and give grace for the more. We all have stories to tell, or to hold tight, but we all have stories. We all have pieces.
Please start sharing your pieces and please start seeing the pieces of others.
Encourage one another when they have great wins but also encourage them in the unseen sorrow.
Start looking at people as pieces and strive to help build the puzzle, one interaction at a time.
A bit more about how I got here:
I am currently thirty six years old. Yes, I did just have to stop and think about that because I have now become the age that you do not know your age immediately upon being asked. But, I am 36 years old and it has taken me 35 of these years to actually begin to know who I am and become comfortable in my own skin. I have come to this place after a series of lots of lows, some highs, lots of love, therapy, refection, Jesus, and time.
I am an 3 on the Enneagram. If you have not learned about the Enneagram yet, do it. It has opened up my eyes on how to love and accept myself and has also really helped me to love and accept the ones who I walk with. Threes are achievers. Threes often define themselves by their accomplishments. Threes struggle with feeling that they have value or are known without direct words affirming this. Threes also fear that they will be misunderstood. This is a wildly simplified explanation of a three and I am sure I will write heavily on this in the future. But, for today, to help you understand your heart and to understand the hearts of others, I really encourage you to take a deeper look at the Enneagram for yourself. But, some key things to note:
You cannot type someone else. This is about the motivations in your heart, not your behaviors.
While the tests are helpful, you do need to look deeper into each type and be really honest with yourself to help see which type best fits you.
You are not just a number. You can identify closely with the type, but let us also remember we are also individuals.
Do not weaponize the Enneagram to bring others down by being whatever type they identify with, but rather allow this tool to help you to understand people who see the world different than you.
This is not an excuse to keep doing the thing you do because of the type you identify with, but rather gives you the opportunity to see why you do something and help you to grow to see how to do it in a healthy way. (Example: I try to get my value and self-worth from my accomplishments. I did not realize I did this until I studied the Enneagram. Now, I try really hard to remember my self-worth does not come from what I accomplish and to be okay with who I am just based on whose I am. This is an ongoing struggle for me.)
This is not a “Christian thing” but rather a tool for anyone. It has become very popular in Christian culture because it allows you to see yourself for how you were designed and also allows you to lean into the grace of the gospel for all that you can grow in.