Selah in September

Several months ago, a friend challenged me to find a word that would be both a mantra and a truth to speak over this season in my life.  I prayed, looked, read, and tried not to come up with the word myself.  I sensed that there was purpose ahead, and I wanted to be wholly ready, and I felt that whatever the word was, it was going to be part of that.

September arrived, and I woke up with the word on my lips: Selah.  If you’re familiar with the Psalms, you’ll see the word throughout, often given as an instruction to the person leading music – an instruction to stop and listen.  That’s the key – stop and listen.  In the midst of the madness, hit the pause button and employ all the senses.

Stop and listen.

Stop and look.

Stop and smell.

Stop and feel.

Stop and taste.

Stop and be.

Selah.

I don’t believe in coincidence, and I find it telling that the word finally arrived hand-in-hand with September.  Even though I live in an area that is still sweltering in 90-degree weather, I always envision September to be the gateway to Autumn – sweaters, boots, hot drinks (PSL anyone?), cooler days, trees exploding in a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and gold, and the smell of fires being lit in fireplaces.  Everything about fall invites you to slow down a bit, cozy up, and immerse yourself in all that is around you.  Autumn practically calls you to Selah.

So what do I do with this?  It has been more than the obvious, although I have deeply loved stopping and listening to birds, my daughter’s laughter, harmonies, and wind chimes.  I have also been listening to my own body – resting and resetting when necessary, going for a run when I’m craving an endorphin push, and eating when my stomach tells me it’s hungry.  On top of that, I’ve been conscious about listening to others.  Before letting my impatience with my daughter cause a short response, I take a breath and listen to what her little heart is trying to tell me.  I’m in a position at work to make decisions that carry serious weight; but people are impacted by these, and each of those people has a story and a life and a career.  Each of those people matter, and as I have been tempted to make quick decisions based on my gut and a lack of time, I have heard this gentle whisper to Selah…stop and listen. 

And I am a better person for it.

Not better than anyone else.  Never better than anyone else.  But I am growing each time I choose to stop and listen instead of rushing headlong into all the things – the choices, the responses, the moments that I won’t be able to get back or take back.  And as I get better, the people in my sphere of influence are hopefully helped…or at least not hurt.

Selah.  As Summer transitions into the brilliance of Autumn, it beckons us to stop and to listen, to feel, to see, to smell, to taste, and to simply, utterly be.

Selah.

 

 

 

Hidden Hope, In Plain Sight

I realize that this is the second tattoo-related post on my blog in recent weeks, but bear with me.

I recently – finally – got my tattoo.  I’ve wanted it for years, but the timing was never great, and I was waiting for the right design.  Then I ended up traveling for work to a location that seems to have as many tattoo shops per capita as Las Vegas has casinos.  One evening, as several of us were eating dinner, one of my coworkers called the shop across the street from the restaurant (after scoping it out on Yelp) and, before I knew it, I was in the shop getting the details worked out.

The artist joked that my design was really four tattoos in one: a butterfly, a semicolon, a heart, and a cross, and, well, he wasn’t wrong.  But their individual significance gives way to a larger meaning when put together in this way.  They each hold something special, but they are more than the sum of their parts.

The butterfly has long been important to me, especially after doing the Chrysalis weekend (Walk to Emmaus) when I was in high school.  It symbolizes new beginnings.  It represents change.  It is new, radiant, beautiful life on the other side of what the caterpillar can only imagine to be darkness and pain.  The old, quite literally, is gone, and the new has come.

If you’re familiar with Project Semicolon, you know that the semicolon is associated with mental health and suicide prevention.  In writing, when an author wants to end a sentence, he or she will use a period.  But if they have more to say, if the sentence shouldn’t end yet, the author can use a semicolon.  My semicolon says that I have thought about ending the sentence, the story, the book…but I chose not to.  I have more life left to live – more to write, more to sing, more to experience, more to be.

What I especially love about the semicolon in this tattoo is that it would be easy to not notice it; it doubles as the body of the butterfly, and one could be forgiven for not even realizing the semicolon is there.  That’s exactly what my struggle with mental illness is – it is a part of me, subtly present, but never my defining feature.  For it to be part of something that symbolizes new life is even better; I carry my struggle into my new life because, while my story doesn’t define me, I can absolutely use it to offer a light in a dark place to someone else.

The heart and the cross are somewhat self-explanatory:

Love.

Love conquers fear.  It overcomes and forgives our worst.  It inspires our best.  Every single thing I do needs to be done in love, and the cross represents the greatest act of love humanity has ever had the opportunity to witness intersecting with the greatest need humanity would ever know.  It is sacrifice, humility, courage, and hope.

Ah, there it is.  That thing I talk a lot about if you’ve spent any time at all reading this blog.  Hope.

I debated simply tattooing the word on my wrist, as much a declaration as a plea, but I wanted to do this differently.  Instead, each of the four symbols within my tattoo is a variation of hope:

The butterfly’s hope is that new life, that “hanging on” in the darkest of experiences, the transformation revealed when it leaves the chrysalis.  The caterpillar’s entire existence might have been over, lost to the darkness, but it continues in a vibrant, bold way.

The semicolon’s insistence that the story isn’t over is hope’s quiet resolve.  There is more to be writtenIt must be written!  Everything is incomplete without the rest of this story.

Love, at its core, is hope.  We often pour out our love for others, willing to overlook and overcome their darkest moments and shadiest corners, because we see potential – we have hope for what can be, and we love them enough to not give up on them while they get there.  Can we reserve that same kind of love for ourselves?  Can we see the potential of who and what God created us to be and believe that we’re worthy of that potential?  Love gives us a place to transform.  Love lets us be caterpillars, with a ridiculous, outrageous hope for the butterflies to come, without giving up on us in the cocoon.

And oh…the cross.  Jesus came face-to-face with humiliation and pain and betrayal.  He could have ended the torture and the spectacle, and the angels – who were perhaps watching in abject horror – would have come to His aid in the blink of an eye.  But He endured the worst because the best was yet to come.  He knew that his sacrifice, and His subsequent resurrection, would mean that hope would not only be forever present, but it would be accessible.  To you.  To me.  To all of us, no matter how dark our past; our futures could be something different.

So each of my tattoo’s symbols has a very specific meaning, but there is hope hidden in each of them.  Hope hidden, but in plain sight.  Where do you see hope today?

 

Who Are You?

Who are you?

When someone asks us this question, we always offer our names first. After that, we go with relationships – significant others, parents, children, colleagues. Then activities and places – where we work or go to school, where we go to church, things we’re involved in. On the surface, in public, to a stranger who might ask, we want to communicate that, whatever our identity, we belong. Somewhere, to someone.

But in the middle of the night, when we’re lying awake and staring at the ceiling, what do we say when we turn that question on ourselves?

Who am I?

Our answers to ourselves become far less about convincing someone that we belong, and far more transparent in what we believe about ourselves.

I’m an idiot.

I’m a failure.

I’m the world’s worst parent.

I’ll never be good enough.

I’m unloved.

I’m unlovable.

I’m damaged.

I’m weak.

I’m a fraud.

I’m invisible.

Do these sound familiar? They are the party line of the Negative Self Talk Committee that loves to hold late night meetings in our brains and our hearts. The committee doesn’t always need much help. For some of us, the things we tell ourselves simply echo the wounding things that we have been told by others, making it even easier to believe that this – this less than – is who we are.

But there is no freedom in that identity. None. Every painful word creates another bar on the cage that holds us back from being who we were created to be. And we were created to be more, so very much more.

But God didn’t create us to be more and then walk away. His pursuit of us is steadfast and unyielding. Have you encountered this persistent God? Has He won your heart? Then you are changed. Your identity is changed. It is built on the solid rock of our unshakable God, not on the shifting sand of the things we hold to and the lies we tell ourselves.

So who are you?

You are loved.

You are worthy.

You are new.

You are clean.

You have a purpose.

You are a son or daughter of the King.

You are whole.

You are seen.

You are known.

You are forgiven.

You are not an accident.

You are not alone.

You are not your past.

You are not your scars.

You are not your hurts.

You are surrendered, and in that surrender you are more than a conqueror.

You belong. You belong. You belong.

And you don’t have to convince anyone of that.

Don’t Forget to Turn Around

Moving is stressful.  Anyone who has ever moved can tell you that, and anyone in the military who does this fairly often can attest to the reality that sometimes the move goes well, and sometimes it doesn’t.  This has been one of those moves where the list of random things going sideways is almost comedic, but the impact that it has had on my mood and general outlook has been anything but funny.

There was the base hotel that had said they would be able to accommodate me for 6 days, but when I arrived could only do five.  Then the room they put my daughter and me in was less than ideal for two people who had packed up everything they might need for the foreseeable future – the door to the room didn’t close properly at the bottom, so if my daughter kicking me repeatedly in our shared bed didn’t keep me up, the flies, moths, and flying ants that had easy access to the room did a stellar job.  The air conditioner was so loud we had to yell to be heard over it, but we couldn’t control the temperature in the room ourselves, and water pressure in the shower was so bad that my daughter was convinced the shower must be broken.  (And for anyone who would argue that we should have asked for a different room, we had been given the last available room on base.  We were stuck.)  I got into a minor fender bender while trying to figure out which way I was supposed to turn out of a parking lot, because my GPS’ decision to recalculate at the last second was just enough distraction for bad things to happen.  I jammed my thumb somehow and it swelled to twice the size it normally was, which made loading and unloading the car more difficult than I expected.

All relatively little things, but in the context of a move and stress, they added up – big time.  And those little things began to magnify themselves in my brain, especially as I lay awake in the middle of the night, dodging dream-kicks from the munchkin and wondering what bug was crawling on me now?  The morning light, with its overwhelmingly beautiful sunrises, did little to quell my frustration.

I can’t believe I have to pack all of this up again in a few days and move to a hotel off-base – out-of-pocket – and then do it again a few days after that (because of availability) and keep going back and forth from hotel to hotel.  I need a house.  I need a church.  I need some stability.  And, for crying out loud, I need a flyswatter!

Sunday morning arrived, and my heart ached for the familiarity of our church family in the town we’d left.  We’d been known and loved and welcomed there, and I got a stomachache thinking about walking into a new church in a new town where we knew no one.  I did my best to bury my anxiety so that my daughter wouldn’t pick up on it, and we headed to one of the few churches in town that fell into the general description of what we were looking for.  We loved it.  We were warmly welcomed when we walked in.  The kids service used some of the same materials that our previous church had used, and the setup was close enough to familiar for my daughter to confidently hug me goodbye at the door and waltz right in.  The auditorium felt comfortable, the music was good, the preaching – satellited in from a main campus church elsewhere – was fantastic, and it turned out that someone from my new unit was on the worship team.  After the service was over, I picked up my little girl and she chattered on and on about how great everything had been.  I knew then that we had found our new church, and all we had done was show up.

The next day, we arrived at the off-base hotel after a long first day at work.  For the third time, I begged them to see if there was any availability at all that would keep us from having to bounce from one hotel to another multiple times.  With a bit of effort, the nice woman at the front desk was able to work it out so that my daughter and I would be in the same room, at the same hotel, for the next two weeks.  I was overjoyed and relieved.  Finally!

On the way up to our room, I found myself humming the tune to Blessed Be Your Name.  The first line of the chorus says, “Every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise.”  I always took “turn back” to mean something transformative, as in, I’ll take this blessing you gave me and turn it into praise for You.  But in that moment, in that elevator, it occurred to me that “turn back” might mean actually turning around and remembering to give thanks and praise, instead of just walking on.

As my daughter and I continued down the hall, the story of the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19) came to mind.  Basically, Jesus healed these ten lepers and told them to go show themselves to the priest, who could verify that they were healed and could rejoin society.  Of the ten lepers who experienced this life-altering, never-going-to-be-the-same event, only one took the time to come back to Jesus and say thanks.  Keying into my room, all I could think was, “I want to be like that guy!”

So we got inside, got settled, and I explained to my little girl that I’d been praying for a resolution to the hotel situation, and God had answered that prayer.  I told her I had prayed that we’d find a church quickly, and I had asked others to pray for the same thing, and God led us straight to one we loved on our first week in town.  I told her it was super important that we not only acknowledge that He’d answered our prayers, but we needed to thank Him for it too.  Adorably, she looked at me and said, “I’ve got this, Mom,” and proceeded to pray for both of us, giving thanks like only a 7-year-old can.

Do you know what it does for the soul when you take a moment to think about and give thanks for the places in which God has moved, in His timing, for your good and His glory?  It’s remarkable.  The other things that hadn’t worked out yet, that loomed so large in my heart and mind, suddenly paled in comparison.  I could easily choose joy, because I had first chosen to turn around and give thanks.

There are going to be seasons in which things aren’t working out the way you want them to.  I encourage you to identify the things that are working out.  Find them.  Acknowledge them.  Call them what they are.  And dedicate a few moments to thanking God for working and moving and loving us enough to operate in His timing and not our own.  Your outlook will change, but you have to turn around first.

Guest Post: The Watch & The Tattoo

Alyssa Montague is one of the gutsiest people I know, and I am honored to have her share her heart and thoughts in this guest post for If I Knew Not Midnight:

Multiple high profile suicides this past week have left me with a lot of thoughts and feelings. This morning I wrote some of them down. I’d like to share them with y’all if you’d indulge me.

I adore the Kate Spade brand and it’s meant a lot over the years. The brand’s simple, sophisticated femininity speaks to me and it’s always a bit of a moment when I let myself have a Kate Spade. A few weeks ago I bought myself a present at the Kate Spade outlet near my dad’s house. It’s a watch that straddles the line between practical and whimsical in a way that feels so very me – a scalloped leather band with enough sparkle on the face to be pretty and fun without nearing gaudy or pretentious territory. I love it so much. Today I put it on, and I paused as I turned my wrist over to fasten it. There, under my Kate Spade watch, was my tattoo. I got this tattoo a few years ago to both honor my fight against depression and suicide and, more personally, to provide a very pointed reminder. At the last minute, I will always be reminded to keep fighting.

Seeing my tattoo juxtaposed with this symbol of celebration and joy, my heart broke. My soul has lived the foggy weariness that claimed Kate Spade and others, and I thank anything divine I’m not there right now. But I know so many are still there, wandering in grey, muted desolation and rapidly running out of hope.

Because you might be one of those people, I want to be open about my struggle in the hope that you will know you’re not alone and you’ll know it’s okay. But in case I haven’t been clear, I am mentally ill.

Let me say it again, louder, for the people in the back. I am mentally ill.

There is no reason or catalyst. It’s just part of my beautiful, amazing brain. Most days I function just fine. Some days I don’t. My medication helps and so does my pupper. Therapy had been invaluable to me. And oddly, running. None of those things are magic on their own, but I’m using all of them to make it. And I’m surviving. No, wait. Actually, I’m THRIVING. I have an amazing life with incredible family – both the one I was born to and the one I’ve found and built. I own the anxiety and depression that has impacted me so significantly, but I refuse to allow them to define the core of who I am.

If, like me, you are living with mental illness, I offer you this: you are not alone. Sometimes you feel broken, and that’s ok. It. Is. Ok. It’s not all of you. Not even a little bit. You are a magical sunfish or an opalescent tree shark (™ Leslie Knope). You, in all your brokenness, are beautiful and magical and brilliant. I love you, and I ask you to stay and keep making the world better by being you. Because I promise you are doing exactly that, and we need you.

The Other Side of Impostor Syndrome

Long before I knew that it had a name, I knew what Impostor Syndrome was. In almost every setting in my life, I felt like I was a fraud, and that any day now, everybody would figure out that I didn’t belong. This deep-seated feeling existed in spite of whatever talents I possessed and whatever successes I had enjoyed in both academic and career pursuits. And it followed me everywhere. At school. At work. Serving and volunteering. The specter of doubt and fear haunted me at every turn, even in my friendships and relationships.

Impostor Syndrome has become increasingly better known, particularly because people are willing to talk about it more. I was stunned when I first heard someone else discuss this thing that clung to my soul; I wasn’t alone, and this was apparently ridiculously common – among women, among high-achievers, and among those who already tangoed with anxiety and depression.

I recently realized that while Impostor Syndrome puts a name to the sense of “not belonging,” there’s more to it. If, courtesy of Impostor Syndrome, I believe that I don’t belong, it is easy to believe that nothing I’ve done has made an impact. If it hasn’t made an impact, if nothing I have done mattered, perhaps I don’t matter. Do you see where this is going? Do you see how insidious this train of thought is? The most accomplished among us could easily be led to believe – by their own brains – that nothing they have done is important, that they don’t belong, and that they don’t matter. For anyone who has struggled with the darkness of depression and the temptation to end it all, this is a slippery slope that anyone can tumble down.

I once had a conversation with a friend who was moving to a new location. This person was trying to avoid having a “going away” lunch, in spite of the tradition of such an event and that this friend was well-known and well-loved within their workplace. They were trying to avoid it because they were convinced that no one would show up and that their absence “wouldn’t matter anyway.” It was heartbreaking to see someone who was so valued and respected feel as though they didn’t matter. I now know it was Impostor Syndrome.

If, like me, Impostor Syndrome has haunted the corners and moments of your experiences, telling you that you are not good enough, that you’re a fraud, that you don’t belong, that you’re not worthy, that what you do isn’t important, and that what you do doesn’t matter, I need you to recognize that for what it is and tell it to sit down and shut up.

If you know someone who wrestles with the beast that is Impostor Syndrome, will you please speak beauty and truth and light and hope into their lives? We often assume that the high-achievers don’t need anyone to tell them that they are doing well and they matter; they may need to hear it most of all. It isn’t even about where they find their identity; they just want to know that their life and work means something to someone, somewhere. What if you could help tame the insidious beast by letting them know how valued they are?

You’re not a fraud. You belong. Your work matters. Your creativity matters. Your passions matter. You matter.

You matter.

You matter.

I See You, Part 2

Ok, friends, we have to talk about this.  It has been almost two weeks since I published I See You, and the response has been overwhelming.  I witnessed the emotional response when I offered the words at church, but the conversations – both in person and online – that I have had since then have just blown me away.  Why?  Because out of a question to God and the words that came from the answer, it has become abundantly clear that I managed to tap into a wellspring of pain.

While both men and women have talked to me about I See You, a great majority of the women have come with questions and stories that have been buried in pain, and that pain has been buried in fear.  Some of these women asked me if they could really dare to hope that God actually saw them.

(And let’s stop right there for a second.  I’m no theologian or guru or anything that makes me the person to be answering that question.  The fact that people wanted the answer from me tells me how desperate they were to hear it.)

Instead of answering the question, I dug deeper into why it was a question to begin with.  These were women of faith; why would they question whether God sees them?  The answers that I got from them boiled down to a sense of inadequacy, which in turn led to this belief that they were somehow unworthy to be seen by the very God who created them.  Ok, so why did these women feel inadequate to begin with??

Y’all.  I didn’t see it coming, but maybe I should have.  Many women pointed out how they didn’t measure up to a certain person in the Bible, and it wasn’t Jesus.

It was the Proverbs 31 Woman.  Seriously.

If you’re unfamiliar with this woman, here’s a refresher for you:

10 [b]A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

On principle, I don’t have a problem with this woman, but I don’t think she’s real.  I think she’s an ideal whose character and integrity we should aspire to, but I don’t think she’s real.  When does she sleep?  How about self-care?  When does she meet her tribe of girls for coffee or wine?  How about date nights with the hubby?  Yes, I’ve Westernized this like none other, but you get my drift.  She’s someone to aspire to, but she’s not the measuring stick against which we should be judging ourselves.

If I See You broke your heart wide open because you feel like there’s no way God could possibly see you and love you in your inadequacy, I want you to think about something.  God gave His Son for you.  And then He kept pursuing you.  (Y’all, I love you, but there’s no way on God’s green earth that I would sacrifice my daughter for you.  Not any of you.  In fact, my parental instinct is to do whatever it takes to save my child.  God did the exact opposite.)

Do something for me for a second.  Close your eyes.  Imagine that you’re sitting at God’s feet.  Now look up, look at His face.  (No, I don’t know what God’s face looks like; that’s why you’re imagining this.)  What do you see?  Are you afraid to even look because you are convinced that there will be nothing but judgment and disgust on His face?  Look, please, because there’s grace in those eyes.  Grace and love and peace and a deep desire for your heart to be at rest.  The judgment you’re convinced will be there is a prison of your own making, and the door is wide open.  Walk out, walk in freedom, and bask in the reality that He sees you.

He sees you.  He knows you.  He loves you.

I See You

 

 

 

On Mother’s Day, we tend to paint this picture of motherhood that looks an awful lot like the Hallmark cards so many of us probably bought to give to our moms today. But in reality, while we can speak eloquently about all the great parts of motherhood, we are often silent about the parts that are far less elegant. Let’s be honest; being a mom is hard.

So I asked God, “What would You say to a mom on Mother’s Day?” The answer came simply, settling into my spirit in the way that only His voice can:

I see you.

I. See. You.

To the mom who is perpetually invisible, always taking the pictures but never in them – unless they are selfies…

I see you.

To the mom who is in the trenches of parenting (and isn’t just about every age and stage “in the trenches” somehow?)…

I see you.

To the mom whose survival depends on coffee and dry shampoo…

I see you.

To the mother in the grocery store whose child is in the throes of a full-on meltdown and you’re convinced everyone within a 5-mile radius is judging you…

I see you.

To the single mom, and the temporarily single mom due to deployment or business, you’re holding it down on all fronts because no one else will, and “exhausted” is just your normal now…

I see you.

To the mother raising a child with special needs, walking down a life path you never could have anticipated…

I see you.

To the deployed mom, your willingness to go has never been a desire to leave, and this day feels to you more like a sacrifice than a celebration…

I see you.

To the mom battling mental or physical illness and trying desperately to hold it together for your family…

I see you.

To the mom who had one of “those” mornings and may have even lost your mind in the car before getting the whole family to fake the “we’ve got it all together” look on the way into church…

I see you.

To the mom who has adopted a child and is facing the unique challenges that go along with it…

I see you.

To the stay-at-home-mom and the working mom who can’t seem to escape mom guilt or the Mommy Wars…

I see you.

To the mom whose relationship with your kids isn’t what you hoped it would be…

I see you.

To the mom who is convinced that you’re a nonstop hot mess who will never be a Pinterest Mom and that your efforts will never quite compare to the highlight reel you see on everyone else’s Facebook and Instagram…

I see you.

To the mom who wishes your mom was still here…

I see you.

To the woman who desperately wants to be a mother, but is 1 in 8 women dealing with infertility. It is so common a struggle, and yet you feel so alone, and this day is so, so hard…

I see you.

To the mother who has known the unimaginable loss of a child, at any age – whether in the womb or as an adult, and this day is a painful reminder of that loss…

I see you.

To the mom who is struggling and overwhelmed, who harbors this shameful suspicion that you are too much and yet somehow at the same time not enough…

I see you.

I see you. I know you. And I deeply, powerfully, perfectly, recklessly love you. If you think My seeing you means I’m judging you, guess again. Don’t you know? I rejoice over you, I sing songs over you, and I absolutely delight in you.

Genesis 16:13 – “Hagar gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me.'”

Oh mama, the God who sees, sees you. He sees you. Let that wash over you and soak into the dry places in your soul, and with that knowledge may you have the happiest of Mother’s Days.

Sometimes Healing Sucks

We often talk pleasantly, longingly, about healing, but sometimes we don’t want healing. Because sometimes healing sucks.

Let me explain.

Awhile back, an opportunity was presented to me that was just that: an opportunity. Sounds good, right? The thing is, it came wrapped in a situation that also represented a stark reminder of the betrayal and humiliation I’d walked through five years ago. Most of the time, I’m good with talking about that whole episode of my life – I wrote a blog entry on it for the entire world to see, for crying out loud! But parts of that whole era were never addressed, and the remaining wounds scabbed over enough for me to be functional – more than functional, really – and I would have been content to keep things that way forever.

Ok, I would have been more than content. Way more. I really would have preferred to leave that aspect of things on a shelf and literally never deal with it again. Like that box of God-only-knows-what from the very first time you moved that keeps finding its way onto the moving truck and into the new house but never actually gets unpacked. I really wanted to just keep things packed and shoved into a corner, because the proverbial unpacking was going to hurt, and I just didn’t have the time or space or emotional bandwidth for that. And I wasn’t planning on creating any, either.

Until this…opportunity…came along. It was impossible to ignore, and, almost as bad, it was impossible to fight against. It was literally a Godfather-esque “offer I couldn’t refuse.” And I cried. Oh y’all, I cried some really angry tears. Because I could have been given the opportunity without the painful walk down memory lane, but it wasn’t going to work that way, and I felt like the extra gut punch just wasn’t necessary.

But perhaps necessary is in the eye of the beholder.

From my perspective, gallivanting through a bunch of stuff I’d rather just never think about again seemed like a terrible idea, regardless of how much better I’d be on the other side of it. If I was at the “80% solution” and was in a fairly good place, I was ok with that. Things were moving along, life was good on all fronts, and I didn’t see broken things, which meant nothing needed to be fixed.

I’m pretty sure The Man Upstairs saw something different. I had done a lot of healing, but I wasn’t healed. I had done a lot of forgiving, but I hadn’t completely forgiven. I had pieced my life back together, but there were still places with cracks and missing shards where my heart was unprotected. He saw through all my claims of functionality to the depth of my woundedness, and He couldn’t leave “well enough” alone.

Our Creator God is funny like that. He loves us as the hot messes we are, but He sees bigger, better, more complete things for us. He wants us to be whole. He wants us to be healed. He wants us to be free. And He will lead us on some really weird journeys to get there.

Have you ever broken a bone and had it heal badly? You might still have the use of that appendage, but not as completely as you might have otherwise. So the bone has to be rebroken and reset – so that healing can be complete. The process sucks – it isn’t pleasant at all, but the end is good.

When I wrote about God’s never-ending pursuit of us, I drew a lot from Cory Asbury’s Reckless Love. I still don’t know if this whole opportunity-wrapped-in-pain is a shadow, a mountain, a wall, or a lie that God is doggedly tearing down, but I know He won’t let it go. I really wanted Him to. I really, really wanted to run the other direction as He started pressing on the painful places that I just didn’t want to deal with. I would have settled for broken woundedness over complete wholeness, because while being healed is awesome, the healing sucks sometimes. But God’s not really into settling. He’s into pursuing. And redemption. And restoration.

He’s also into mercy and grace. Mercy, because God let me go five years without forcing a showdown with my pain. Grace, because with every effort to pull away, He kept bringing me back to this.

I’m not through this process yet. Everything about this “opportunity” indicated that it would be a season rather than a quick I-went-to-my-therapist-and-I’m-great-now session. Seasons take awhile; this crummy process is taking its sweet time. Here’s to whatever “healed” looks like on the other side of opportunity.

So I Went To A Supernatural Convention

I went to a Supernatural Convention, and I haven’t been home in a few days…

In August of last year, I bought tickets to the Supernatural Convention in Nashville. The show and many of the projects the cast members have spearheaded have impacted me greatly, and I wanted to say thank you – in person, if possible. So I went, and the experience was surreal. On the other side of it, here are some observations and a few things I learned along the way – although if you’re looking for convention tips, that’s not what this is about:

  1. Demographics are nothing more than descriptors.

I’m 36. A single mom. A military officer. As my first convention drew near, I seriously debated what the heck I was doing. Did people “like me” actually do this? I didn’t know anyone “like me” who would have flown by themselves to Nashville, TN to attend a fan convention completely dedicated to a TV show.

You know what? Who cares?!

My demographics describe me, but they don’t dictate the things I am interested in, and they certainly don’t have the power to create a box that I and all of my interests have to fit into. (Unless, of course, they are prejudicial to good order and discipline, because military regulations are what they are.) Imagine if I had said, “I’m 36, I can’t go to a fan convention!” or “I don’t know any other military officers taking leave to go to a Supernatural convention; I can’t be the first!” I would have missed out on so much. Lesson learned: don’t let what you think someone in your demographic should do hold you back from what you want to do.

2. The Supernatural Family (#SPNFamily) is a real thing.

I had suspected this for awhile, based on more than a decade of anecdotes populating the internet, a fantastic book edited by Lynn S. Zubernis called Family Don’t End With Blood (FDEWB), and the way that the fandom responded to needs – ones that had absolutely nothing to do with Supernatural – around the world. I remember reading FDEWB while deployed and finding validation for the impact the show, the cast, and their projects had had on me. Honestly, though, I wasn’t sure what I was going to find at a convention. I was new, this was my first con, and I felt really overwhelmed.

I shouldn’t have. On the first night, I had tickets to attend the relatively small Pajama Party with Kim Rhodes and Lisa Berry. I got onto the elevator, trying to figure out where in this huge convention center I was supposed to go, and I met three ladies who were also on their way to the Pajama Party. One of them happened to be active duty Air Force, and the other two were military dependents. They caught how lost I was, and they immediately offered to take me with them. Maybe it seems minor, but isn’t it the minor things that make such a major difference sometimes?

But if we’re going to talk about family, I have to tell you about Savannah. In our VIP group of ten ladies, Savannah was the youngest at 13-years-old, and she was absolutely precious. She and her grandmother were in the group, and we basically made her our unofficial mascot within the first twenty minutes. Her favorite cast member is Adam Fergus, and we made sure that all of our interactions with Adam involved giving her pride of place. This even meant that when Adam came over to pull one of the VIPs on stage during the karaoke party, we made sure Savannah was the one. There was this sense of “let’s make this weekend as memorable as possible for her” – just because. Each of us could have easily been out for ourselves, eager to steal the spotlight and the precious few minutes we got with each of the cast, but we chose instead to be intentional about making an already incredible experience even more so for Savannah. And we basked in the glow of her happiness with every encounter. In a ridiculously short amount of time, family happened, and it was beautiful.

Also beautiful was how every person there could just be themselves. Acceptance was pretty much the rule, and it was so fun to see people be fans without worrying about being judged. Heck, I could fangirl without anyone judging me; in fact, I got lots of grins when people figured out it was my first con and I couldn’t get the smile off of my face. More to the point, as soon as people realized I was a newbie, they offered pointers and tips to make the entire experience even better. All around, everyone wanted the best for everyone else, to include leaving random notes of encouragement around the convention. Talk about a breath of fresh air.

3. As much as I love to create, watching others create is a joy on its own level.

Music means a lot to me. It is my go-to creative outlet, and making music is one of the places I most feel “at home,” even when you put me on a stage and hand me a microphone and a set of in-ear monitors. However, there is a deep sense of joy in watching other creatives do what they do and just letting myself enjoy what they are creating. The Louden Swain concert – Saturday Night Special – was no exception, and watching the band perform with each other and with the cast was so much fun, mostly because they were clearly having fun as they entertained us. (That being said, Lisa Berry sang the heck out of Proud Mary, and Jensen Ackles brought the house down with Like A Wrecking Ball – the Eric Church version – and Whipping Post.) It was something to behold, and I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, how lucky am I to be sitting here, getting to witness this bit of magic in person?” Because that’s how it felt, like magic. Like a bunch of creatives were connecting in a big way, and something amazing was happening – and they were enjoying themselves immensely in the process!

4. Famous or not, the cast is made up of some of the realest people you’ll ever meet.

With every encounter with the cast, I walked away thinking, “They are so insanely normal.” They talked about the difficulties of being away from home, of parenting, of struggling with self-esteem and self-worth, of tackling physical and mental illness; they talked about the same things we talk about on a daily basis, and it was amazing.

They were also unfailingly kind. I had the opportunity to have some actual conversations with a few of the cast, and they were so present – I never felt like they were just getting through the event, biding their time until the next thing. I think we struggle with that in our everyday lives; they managed to make each person they interacted with feel important and valued in a brief period of time. That’s a gift, but I don’t think it is something you can fake – even if acting is how you make your living.

5. We impact them.

Consistently, from actor to actor, whether in Q&A panels or meet & greets, it was readily apparent that they are as awed by us as we are by them. This incredible phenomenon started off with a TV show but morphed into something powerful, long-lasting, and profound, and the cast realizes that the fans are essential in that equation. We all have stories, and many of us have offered thanks – but they return it to us with humility and a sort of wonder that this work they do has changed lives. That wonder in and of itself is something they continue to carry with them.

Those interactions made me think about the people we have in our everyday lives who make a difference, but we assume they know. Don’t assume. Don’t ever assume. If someone makes a difference, tell them. Thank them. Because that might be what keeps them going on the really bad days, when it’s easy to believe that none of it matters…and yet it all matters. It all matters, and the impact can be reciprocal.

6. Everyone warned me about Post-Con Depression.

Remember all the advice folks were quick to give me the second they figured out I was new to this whole thing? One item that came up over and over again was the warning about Post-Con Depression – when the high of being at a convention and interacting with your favorite cast and being a fan without being judged fades and you have to step back into ordinary life, which can feel like a deep, deep valley.

I’m not there yet. What I am, in this very moment, is grateful. I could have continued to say, “Yeah, it would be cool to go to a convention someday,” but someday isn’t on my calendar, and it might never have happened. I was part of an amazing experience, and I met incredible people – and I don’t just mean the cast. My belief that the #SPNFamily is a real thing was validated, and I got to be part of the fandom without judgment. The convention exceeded my expectations, and I couldn’t be happier. When the Post-Con Depression inevitably creeps up, I look forward to fighting it with the gratitude that I’m feeling right now, because gratitude doesn’t go away.

Bottom line: I’m so glad I went, and I have no regrets. Does it get better than that?