Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Everything You Needed To Know About Divorce in 5 Words...

When the gaping hole first yawned before me, when I was very first pushed into the shadowed abyss not so fondly described as divorce in February 2013, I was given a lot of advice. A lot of opinions. A lot of encouragement, support, and truth.

But nothing so true as these five tiny words one friend shared with me.

You won't walk this perfectly.

At the time, I thought, of course not.

Even as I strived to do just that.

But she knew. Because she'd been shoved into the same reluctant hole, she'd been swallowed by the same bottomless pit, had gotten sucked in as woman and climbed out as superwoman. She knew. She knew the pit well, knew the monsters inside it, knew how the wind howled with lies, knew the emotions that lurked dragons full of fire, knew the broken fingernails accompanying the claw marks on the walls.

It was the best thing she could have said to me.

Because as I stumbled, tripping, aching, climbing, falling, breaking, pushing, trying, those words echoed in my head. When I gave up and wallowed in the cold bottom, I heard them again. When I fashioned makeshift ladders out of idols and climbed on my own strength and fell because they couldn't support me, when I broke again too, when I cursed and wailed and pummeled the walls and snapped back at the wind, those words were true, always with me.

At first those words almost haunted with the unmet, unspoken challenge. You won't walk this perfectly. Almost a depressing tease, serving to make anti-logic and human survival instincts rise in a bloody bidding war. Sure I will. Sure I can. I have to. How else do you survive the damp dark pit? If I am not perfect, then how do I ever get out? I have to do it right. Do it well. Do it with grace. Do it. Me. I have to.

But you can't. And that's when the anti-logic and human survival instincts morph into something even more dangerous - despair. And you just thought the wind hollered lies before, now the roar is deafening and you turn to all that is false just to hold on. The equivalency of scraping the dirt out from under your fingernails just to plunge them back into the earth in a desperate attempt for a grip. For substance. For clarity.

For a stronghold.

But the strongholds have you now, and guilt and regret and failure and shame spin into a pit-tornado of condemnation. And the pit, the pit you despised but had almost grown comfortable in its predictability now is a whirlwind of terror, with no escape.

Still - you won't walk this perfectly.

And that's when the words, once a challenge, become a comfort. They aren't to spur you toward striving, they're to sate you with satisfaction. With peace. Relief.

You won't walk this perfectly.

And thank God for that.

Literally. Thank Him.

Because until you scoot over and allow Him room in the pit with you, you'll never climb out. Never be free. Never feel sunshine on your face again. He'll eventually boost you out, but first He wants to just sit with you. In that pit He has you all to Himself, your company, your heart, your hurt, your tears. Your failures and sin and memories and doubts.

And the dark isn't so scary, and the wind isn't nearly so loud, and the dragons retreat in His light. The monsters fade and your nails grow long and clean because you aren't so frantically digging anymore, you're safe. Even in the midst. Even in the shadows. Safe.

My friend knew I wouldn't walk this perfectly. Because she didn't. Because you can't.

And the good news is, no one, especially not Christ, expects you to. He doesn't want perfection, He wants access to your pit. No monster is fiercer than Jesus in warrior-mode, and when His daughters bleed, He's on it. Rest assured, He's on it.

From one pit-dweller to another, let me tell you this in truth and love. You won't walk this perfectly.

So just scoot over.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Christmas Confessions from an Almost-Divorced Chick

This Christmas didn't look like I expected.

But does Christmas ever, really?

We go into the season of Advent with expectations. With our own personalized versions of sugarplums dancing in our heads. We dream of a Christmas with sugar-crusted cookies and chocolate dipped pretzels. Of our children piled on hand-made quilts, listening intently to the reading of the Gospel stories every night. Of pictures with Santa and Pinterest inspired goodie-bags for the neighbors and a Pottery-Barn-Catalog-worthy home. We dream of carols and candy canes and presents. Joy and peace and holiday bliss.

All wrapped up with a shiny silver bow.

We want it every year, though we know in all reality, our Christmas looks more like the Before than the After.

Because the After isn't really real. It becomes real in our heads because we only see what we don't have, only envision the what-if's that aren't and never will be because they're just not. But instead of accepting what is and turning our Before into a beautiful package to open, we strive and perform and focus on the After. The unreachable, unrealistic, unfulfilling After. The kind of After that makes us stretch and long and ache when the answer is right there in the manger the entire time, totally in reach, completely in hand, 100% ours for the taking - and the keeping. And the sharing.

Jesus came for our messy Before's. To redeem them and restore them and mold them. HE and HE alone is our perfect After.

That's Christmas.

I knew my Christmas wasn't going to look like a catalog, this year especially. This year, my first Christmas being separated, was spent largely focusing on simply not thinking. Forget holiday bliss. How about holiday survival? That was my goal. My Before wasn't just messy or busy or wearisome, it was downright cut-throat. Some days, literal knives would have offered less hurt.

But there were glimpses of After's sprinkled throughout my Advent, like powdered sugar on my mom's famous teacake cookies...

Watching my five year old stand unprompted in the driveway, her faith-filled gaze fixed on Heaven, and sing Christmas carols to Jesus.

Hearing the voice of my cousin-in-law as he looked me in the eye and told me what an amazing mom I was and how proud he was of me.

Working a puzzle with another cousin, who understands a broken heart, and not needing to speak because solving the pieces in front of us was helping solve a little piece of the hurt inside us.

Seeing the joy on the face of my daughter as she opened a gift she'd always wanted.

Hearing the laughter of my niece and basking in the snuggles of my nephew.

Tearing up that my daughter not only made sure I had gifts to open Christmas morning with her, but hearing her insist I take the next turn when she still had several to open herself.

Sparkling Christmas lights both on my tree and outside my house that were helped hung by multiple people who love me.

Enjoying apple cider with caramel and whipped cream from Starbucks.

Listening to my daughter sing a Christmas song she learned at school for my entire family, despite the fact she was scared to death to do so. She's learning courage, like her mama, learning that bravery isn't the absence of fear, it's the pressing forward in the thickening shadows of it all.

This Christmas, it could have been easy to bask in the what-ifs and the what-was and the what-will be? To let the doubts and fears and regrets and throbbing pains dictate my holiday, steal its joy like the Grinch stole the Who's feast, let the hurt strangle me from the inside out.

But Jesus...I celebrated Him as a baby born but this holiday He somehow showed up more like the warrior who upset the money-changers in the temple and the gentle Shepherd leading this lamb by name, all wrapped up in one amazing Gift that I can open every. single. day.

This Christmas, Jesus reminded me that although things are different, so very different, they're actually better in many ways - one way being that this Christmas, I can rest assured and be secure in the fact that the people in my life now who love me, TRULY love me. And that number isn't few.

There's more candy than coal at the end of the day, now, despite it all. My stocking is full and my tree is lit and the gifts are piled high, and that's not a Christmas miracle, that's a daily miracle, one that I'm taking with me throughout each day of 2014.