Cardigan Day

A few weeks ago my husband and I watched “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” a documentary about Fred Rogers, and the making of the TV show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” As we got started we confessed to each other that as kids, we really hadn’t been that excited about the show. It was better than the news or soap operas, but not as fun as Sesame Street or The Electric Company. The show’s slow, calm pacing had felt off to us. Later, parenting young kids, I appreciated the aesthetics of the show a lot more, especially when I compared it to Teletubbies or Barney. I sort of grew into Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.

It was so interesting to look through the lens of the documentary as it showed what was going on in the world and in the television industry during our early childhood years. Watching children interact with Fred Rogers at special events, and seeing how fascinated they were with him reminded me of a story I’d read about a boy in an abusive home who watched the show, and clung to Mr. Rogers’ words, “You are enough. I like you just the way you are,” like a lifeline. That message WAS his lifeline. And now I think that as a little kid, the reason I didn’t connect with the show was that I didn’t need that message. I didn’t need the world to slow down. I had that already, that cup was full.

While leading a middle school youth group about a year ago, I was emphasizing how Jesus came to help “the least, the lost and the left out,” or as I once heard Danielle Strickland say, “Jesus is Lord of the awkward and uncool.” A student asked, “But, what about the popular and cool kids?” The question caught me off-guard because never in my life have I identified myself as one of the cool kids, and I had never thought about it from that perspective. (Kudos to the kid who asked the question.) My answer was, sure, them too, but the cool and popular (or the rich and the powerful) don’t necessarily feel the NEED for what Jesus offers the way people who are really struggling in these areas do. If your life is good the way it is, if you feel satisfaction with your relationships, your place in the world and with your self, then Jesus may be no more than an inspirational leader to you. Your cup is pretty full. I guess that is okay, but I can’t relate very well to this.

I came to Jesus with an empty cup. By my middle school years, I was a lonely kid who felt misunderstood and like I couldn’t get anything right. People made fun of me or ignored me and I thought it was because there was something wrong with me. I was moody and suffered so much from storms of sadness and anger. When I went to church camp, I turned it all over to Jesus, saying “This is my life. I don’t know what I am doing, but I trust that you can fix it and make something wonderful.” I found healing. Jesus calmed my storms. I did not become perfect nor did I become cool. I did find new life, where before I had felt like I was dying. Jesus gave me a lifeline. Jesus was, and is my lifeline.

Today I put on a cardigan in honor of Mr. Rogers and his work to help children know that they are seen and valued just as they are. Every day, I try to take in and “put on” Jesus’ message of God’s love and redemption. No matter whether you feel you are part of the lame and left out crowd, or on top of the world, or somewhere in between, Christ has something better in store for you. If you want something deeper, more meaningful, more beautiful than you can imagine, empty your cup and reach for Jesus.

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Bear Hunt

A LONG time ago, I worked in a day care center and we took preschoolers on Bear Hunts pretty often. It started by sitting on the floor in a circle and making a marching sound by patting our legs in rhythm while chanting: “Going on a bear hunt,” pat, pat, pat, pat, “Gonna catch a big one,” pat, pat, pat, pat, “I’m not afraid!” pat, pat, pat, “Tall trees,” pat, pat, “Green grass,” pat, pat, pat. “Look at all the flowers!” After we appreciated the imaginary flowers there would always be 1) a river we needed to swim, 2) a mountain to climb, and 3) a field of tall grass we had to push apart to walk through. Then we started the chant again, “Going on a bear hunt…” We always found our way to a deep, dark cave, so dark it was like having our eyes shut (so we shut our eyes) and, as sensible bear hunters would, we went blindly into the cave, finding our way by sliding our hands along the walls. Then, instead of feeling the cold, hard, stone wall, we found ourselves in the dark touching a warm, soft, furry….BEAR! At that point we’d all shout “RUN!” and slap our legs furiously, eyes wide with excitement, racing through the tall grass, down the mountain, and across the river back to our cabin, where we’d slam the door, lock it and then peek through the window to find it was only a baby bear after all. We had dozens of bear hunts and it was always thrilling even though it turned out the same way every time. Except once.

It was not Kyla’s first bear hunt. At almost four years old, she was a veteran. She was the kind of kid who wore her blond, curly hair pixie short, hopped over mud puddles and climbed monkey bars as high as anyone else. What I am saying is that she could handle herself. So it was unexpected when, during one bear hunt, the rest of us had fled the cave and were racing for our lives toward the field of deep grass, we heard Kyla yelling, “Help! Help!” The rest of us in the circle stopped and looked at her. She was sitting between Philip and Brittany in our sunny classroom, her eyes closed, hands up feeling the air, with a look of terror on her pale, freckled face. Take this in; she couldn’t find her way out of the cave. “Kyla, honey, open your eyes!” I said. Her big blue eyes popped open, and she looked at us in surprise. Then she laughed in relief and we all laughed with her. The power of her imagination stunned me.

And yet, how different is this from what I (and maybe you) sometimes do? I get stuck in situations of my own imagining way too often. What if I lost my job? What if my son gets deployed to a conflict zone? What if I or someone I love gets really sick? These are worst-case scenarios, and when I start thinking too much about them I can find myself in a dark place. It can seem terrifying, when it isn’t even real. When I catch myself starting to figuratively drift into a dark scary cave, I try to remember to ask myself two questions: 1) In the history of all that I have experienced, how often have I actually faced what looks like a worst-case scenario? The answer to that is, almost never. 2) In those instances when I have faced a worst-case scenario, how many times did I survive? Answer, all of them.

If kept in perspective, worst-case scenario thinking can be a useful “what if” exercise for planning. My worries might prompt me to keep my resume fresh and to save up an emergency fund to cover basic expenses. Or try to live in a healthy way and encourage others to do so. Or make sure my son knows I love him and work very hard at praying for him daily then trusting God for the rest. This last one, the praying and then the trusting, is the hardest but it is critical in situations that are only partly (if at all) within my control, like my employment, or health, or the lives of other people. Worrying and replaying feared outcomes over and over doesn’t change what is going to happen, it is just groping around in circles in the dark. Memorizing Philippians 4:6-7 has helped me for the times when I am stuck in a cave: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (NIV, emphasis mine.) Step one is praying, but step two, the gratitude, is where I seal the prayer by giving my trust and thanks for whatever comes. When I release my death grip on worry and truly trust God, it is like stepping into the light.

If a person practices worrying for a long time, it takes a long time of practicing trust to make it a habit. I am exasperated by how quickly and how often I find myself worried and anxious. But even when I let down my end of the deal, and forget to pray, forget to be thankful and trust, even when I find myself back in that cave, I am not there alone. When I am fearful and I call out “help!” I feel God is smiling at my side saying, “Child, open your eyes.”

My hope is that if you find yourself in the dark, feeling alone, afraid and overwhelmed, that you can let go of your fears, ask God for help and then let yourself trust God to handle what is ahead and to be with you, a powerful and loving presence in all things. Peace!

Daily Manna

I could have been one of the Israelites, wandering the wilderness for forty years, doubting and complaining the whole time, rationalizing idolatry,  fearing want, and sick to death of not knowing where I was going. And yet, God gave me what I needed to keep going daily until finally–finally I started to see the Promised Land. Finally, faith became more than an intellectual exercise and a list of shalts and shalt nots.

I still don’t know what this Promised Land will turn out to be, but I have moved past “lost” and am exploring where I am, and who I am created to be.

It has been a slow re-tooling of mind and heart. And we are not finished yet.

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What I Have Done

“You did WHAT?”

“Why?”

“Why now?”

These are the questions I have been getting, the questions I expected to get. Getting a tattoo was kind of a big move for me, but not a rash one. I have seen some beautiful and meaningful tattoos on people “like me,” forty-something and entrenched in family and career. I had seen a lovely tattoo on the arm of a woman I know from church who is 20+ years my senior. About ten years ago, I thought, “If I ever come up with something I’d be happy about having on my body for the rest of my life, and can figure out where on my body I’d want it…I would absolutely get one.”

Years passed and I couldn’t think of anything I thought I could be happy with permanently. I knew some things I didn’t want: no jokes or cartoons, no butterflies (nothing against butterflies, they just don’t speak to me), no symbols of other cultures or letters from alphabets I don’t use. I didn’t urgently want a tattoo, so I didn’t worry about it: I just let the idea drift in the back of mind. Then one day, I was browsing through Pinterest and saw some tattoos that were quotes from books and my interest was fired. Words were a natural choice for me, a writer, and they could be so beautiful in form and meaning. But, what book? It took a surprisingly long time for me to realize that the Bible was the best source, considering I have been reading from the Bible since I was a child, had taught from it in Sunday school for years, and at that point had been reading it almost daily for nearly a year.

There had been a significant shift in my outlook, my focus, and in my direction in life that started as I began reading from the Bible and doing daily devotions. While I never stopped believing in God, for a long time I believed that I was a mess, hopelessly letting God down, and the best I could hope for was to try to convince everyone else that I was fine and try not to bother, or rely on, God too much. I wasn’t fine. I was panicked and numb, angry and grief stricken. My life was awesome by the standards of many and all I could see was my epic failure to realize my potential, or to connect meaningfully even with the people I loved the most. Not fine at all. My sister (who thought I was doing okay,) suggested I check out Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. It was a revelation of reassuring scripture and interpretation that challenged and transformed my faith journey. I have read critics of Jesus Calling who describe the devotions as “New Age-y” and not biblically sound, but my experience was that those messages helped heal some very hurting parts of me. Leaning on scripture and faith that what I was reading was really true, I took some risks in work and relationships. I relaxed my grip on my impossible standards for self. I trusted. I edged toward wholeness.

If the Bible was helping heal me, then what words would I choose from it? At first I thought “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” a fabulous contradiction to the awful story I had been telling myself for a long time. Knowing I was choosing something forever, I played with it. I wrote it on my forearm. The location was good, I could look upon the verse easily, and share openly, but wouldn’t be obvious. I didn’t want my tattoo to be the first thing people noticed about me. I liked “fearfully and wonderfully” a lot, but decided it wasn’t my forever verse. Romans 15:13 is one of my favorites, but it was too long for the location, and I couldn’t come up with a short cut I liked well enough. Same with “For I know the plans I have for you…” “Be still and know that I am,” is awesome and meaningful but didn’t feel right. Then it came, a message that is repeated many times in many ways throughout the Old and New Testaments. “The LORD your God is with you” In these words I know that I am never alone, and that with God’s presence comes power: power to forgive, pray, act, give thanks, rejoice and love, even when I don’t feel like I can or want to. These were the words. And with the words, all at once, came an image of a dark bird perched on the branch of a tree. The living tree symbolizes the living God, and the bird is me, choosing rest and refuge.

Stephanie resizeFinding the studio and artist was almost a comedy of miscommunications and awkward connections, but finally there was a click when my vision met the skills of Stephanie from Electric Dragonland in Hopkins, MN. I had to wait three months to see her rendering of the art, and another month after that to actually get the work done. It took two hours on a November afternoon in 2015. It wasn’t as painful as I had thought it would be, but then I had imagined myself bursting into tears and running out the door a few minutes into the work, too. I love it.

I get a mix of reactions to this thing I have done. Most people are indifferent. A few shake their heads. Many admire the delicacy of the art and wording. I am delighted that I really don’t care what others think, good or bad. It feels like something I have always had, under the surface, now revealed. It has given me an opportunity to share my faith. It has reminded me to calm down, when my thinking has shifted into bad old rutted tracks.

I got a tattoo.

It is a reminder to me and a message to others.

I got it now because I have come through some trials and can claim the enduring truth that God is with me. And also with you.

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~Peace~

Good Boy

“Good boy, good boy, good boy…” The man’s reassuring voice filled the air, as it had many times before. “Good Boy” had been his name ever since that long-off day of pain and fear. The man, then a stranger, had coaxed him, limping and torn, into the man’s car and taken him to the vet, ultimately giving him a home. The man had called him “Smithers,” and other names since then: “Young Man” in casual conversation, “Bad Dog” when he’d sprinted off in irresistible chase through the weeds or peed on his sleeping arch-enemy, the cat.

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But he knew his real name was “Good Boy” by the way the man murmured it during years of friendly hugs and scratches, and, after a good long life, the way it was voiced with concern when merely walking across the room became a difficult task, and then with more urgency during those distressing times when  his muscles locked up in spasms and his bladder loosed uncontrollably.

Always the stroking hands and the reassuring voice of the man were there. And now they were back in the vet’s office, as they had been in the beginning, and Good Boy heard the sadness in the man’s voice and wished he could in turn stroke the man’s fur gently and call him “Good Man” to reassure him that everything was all right. If sadness was being apart, then joy was in being together, in the now, in the final breath, in feeling the touch and hearing his name, “Good Boy.”

Remember, And Be Glad

My first memory is of being carried up the center aisle of the United Methodist Church in my small home town. I was a three-year-old girl in my daddy’s arms, and my eleven-year-old sister walked up that aisle with us, next to my mom who carried my baby sister.  I come from what, in the midwest at that time, might be considered a religiously diverse family. My mom grew up in the Baptist church, and my dad’s parents were Christian Scientists. Through friendship, my mom began attending the Methodist church in the small town that had become their home. On the day I was baptized, so were both my sisters and my dad, we all became members and that place became our church home.

I went to Sunday school there every Sunday, and in third grade received my first real Bible, a Revised Standard Version covered in pebbled red vinyl, with a scrap of gold leaf that I used to inscribe my name on the cover. I was in many children’s Christmas programs and occasionally got the nerve-racking job of page-turner for my mom as she played hymns and special music on the piano. I went to church camp and found in Jesus the friend I needed to help me survive some turbulent years. I was confirmed in that church, wearing a dress of my mom’s and with my hair in French braids, feeling very grown up. There were annual Christmas eve candlelight services, where we sisters would inevitably get such giggle fits that suppressing them was painful and we shook the pew as we wept silent tears of mirth and pain. There was youth group on Wednesday nights and when I was a senior, a cake for the graduates.

I had a bridal shower and a wedding in that church, and about a decade later I brought my husband and my sons, ages 5 and 3, to my dad’s funeral.  My mom, sisters and I gathered up there at the front of the church and walked dad back down that aisle, the same one we walked up on the day of the baptism. I read some poem that day for the service, but now I wish I’d told this story, because this story is about family, love and the kind of faith that is built on simple acts of caring repeated often over time. It is a story about knowing what belonging is in a father’s arms, and about finding belonging in a place of faith.

This sounds idyllic, but it wasn’t always great. There were cranky people and scoldings and judgment and the same petty human problems inside those walls that you find inside and outside any church of any denomination anywhere in the world. My own nature prompted me to a very cliché rebelliousness in my later teens through my twenties. My early ideas of God were simple ones, the kind Jesus said everyone should have. Thinking about faith got more complicated over time, just as life did, but the Sunday school lessons, and the hymns, the messages and the scripture were all woven right through me and held me together for the most part, even in the very bad times. I prayed, and often those prayers seemed unanswered, but they never felt unheard.  By the time I had children of my own, I knew that faith is linked to survival, and that a spiritual home is a good thing to have. I wanted to give my children some of that same experience I’d had, and as babies they were baptized in a small Methodist Church in their own home town. To this day I continue my faith journey in that community and in the world at large. I am grateful for the support I have had along the way. In last Sunday’s sermon we heard the message of John’s baptism of repentance and Jesus’s baptism of Holy Spirit, and we heard the words from the confirmation service, “Remember your baptism, and be glad.” I do remember and I am glad.

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A Truce

It had been a strugglesome week at work and I was feeling rushed and dejected when my husband suggested we go outside and have a few practice swings with the clubs. A few days before, I had reluctantly agreed to join an outing of four couples for nine holes of golf. Let me tell you something about golf. I don’t care for it. I find it full of aggravation and without reward. I was dreading spending my first opportunity to relax feeling like a total failure surrounded by people who play regularly. But I am a good sport…sort of. “Fine,” I had said, sounding more like “Why GOLF?”

The last time I had played was four years before and it had ranked among the worst leisure experiences of my life. I don’t know how many years it was before that I had played but it was more than four. Last Friday out in the yard, I picked up my driver with poor grace and assumed the position. Instantly there was a blaring chorus of voices in my head. Some were telling me what a bad experience I was about to have, some were telling me what a lousy golfer I am in general, and others were critiquing every single aspect of my swing (SO many ways to do it wrong). It was both deafening and oddly familiar. They sounded just like the voices that used to hound me when I was writing. I couldn’t believe how awful it felt, and I couldn’t believe I had persevered with writing as long as I had, clinging to a certainty that I had to battle through the noise and the unrelenting negativity. As I said in my last post I eventually did give up, and rebooted my writing in Safe Mode, which for me was to only write when I felt like it and to only write for myself. I chose to share my writing when I wanted to with a supportive group of friends who also write, but I absolutely gave myself permission to not do our writing prompts at all, or to write about something else if I wanted. I gave up overthinking and trying to be perfect, and in doing so had made peace with my writing. The voices quieted to a manageable murmur.

Out there in the yard, facing down a leaf in substitution for a dimpled ball, I decided that If I could do that with writing, when I really, really care about writing, I could also do this with golf. Some of the advice my husband offered made no sense. “Position your club face so it impacts the leaf like this.” “Aim so you hit the leaf right at this point.” Incomprehensible concepts which I rejected. Some of the things he said resonated. “Plant your feet.” Yes, this I had experienced in yoga and Pilates, feeling my feet connected with the earth as though my body was an extension of the planet. “Slow your swing.” That I understood, even if I didn’t like it. I just wanted to get the game OVER, but when I slowed down, my swing felt more controlled. Out on the course with an actual ball and an adjusted attitude (less competitive, more experimental and compassionate toward myself) I had a not-terrible time. I had a few (feet planted, slow tempo) strokes that were pretty decent, and the rest (which were absolutely consistent with my status as a perennial beginner) didn’t bother me. Best of all, my inner critics were silent. Nine holes wore me out, and I ended up with a blister on my thumb and some sore muscles the next day, but I also found I had been able to call a truce with the sport. I would be willing to golf again…you know, once my back loosened up.

I even learned a few things from golf that I can apply to my writing. If my metaphysical feet are planted, I have strength and balance to write from. If I don’t rush my message, it comes at its own pace and makes more sense. More peace, fewer voices seems like a good direction to keep moving toward. Fore!

Lynnette golfing