Monday, September 23, 2013

Death

I don't fear death for myself... but I hate it.

I hate it for every friend it's taken away; for every loved one I've lost.

I hate it for what it does to people. I hate it for wearing us down and making us forget the beautiful, vibrant glory that is living... because all we can remember is what we've lost.

I hate that it gives nothing, yet takes everything.

I hate that it's hurting the people I care about most. Death cares not whether you're ready; whether it's convenient. It charges on, harsh and unyielding. It leaves devastated lives in its wake... left to carry whatever burdens the Taken left.

Death is an awful, horrible thing... something which changes those of us who are left until we can never be the same. It's like torture... you're having parts of you removed, a little bit of a time. Sure, you can carry on. But you walk with a limp. You're missing fingers and toes and an ear, but not everyone can see that, so they wonder why it takes you so long to do what you need to do. Death handicaps us. It breaks us.

That's just the side of death that I know, though. This side of eternity.

On the other side, death is a herald for the return of loved ones to their home. It signifies reunion, pieces of the body of Christ coming together forever. Rather than a slow torture, it's like a party which lasts forever, and which people can come to whenever they're ready. I

 believe Paul was ready... but at the same time, I don't think we were. I don't think we were ready for the pain. I don't think we were ready for the shock of hearing him so willingly accepting his transition into eternity. Of course, he did nothing wrong by saying it... in fact, I think it helped us realize that he wasn't going to bounce back from this. There was no denial... and I don't think my dad will be in denial when it's his time either. But it was still hard. I felt like I instantaneously became Tish and Ruby. I saw Tish's love for him as a life partner, and Ruby's innocence as she was raised by her daddy. It broke my heart, seeing this family, who I so dearly love, going through this.

I don't want to think about death from the other side. I hate it too much to want to see it in that light.

It makes me wish I were already on that side of eternity... joyously welcoming my friends rather than watching them slip away. I know enough about the Bible to know that there's a very good chance that people who take themselves into that eternity end up somewhere they never would have wanted to be. I hope that's not the case (I have a few friends of loved ones who have chosen that end, and I hope that they will be in heaven), but I don't want to presume anything either.

So rather than trying to make my 'eternity' happen, I'm going to press on. I'm going to do whatever I can (little though it may be) to comfort the people I love... the people he loved. I'm going to trudge on through this, with God's help, because I know He helps me even when I'm broken. Maybe especially when I'm broken.

And in the meantime, I'm going to try to picture death the way Jesus sees it. People joining Him, worshiping Him... so giddy with joy and happiness that they have no idea the people they've left behind. I'm going to try to focus on THAT side of death... because as bitter as death is on this side, I know it's all the more sweet on the other side of eternity.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

For Everyone Who Might be the Teensiest Bit Jealous of Sarah Horn


If you haven't seen this video yet, I'd doubt you're jealous. But if you haven't (and you just watched it), there's a possibility you could be.

This is a video of a recent performance of Kristin Chenoweth at the Hollywood Bowl. The woman who was randomly picked from the audience is my friend Sarah Horn. Since I met her a few years ago, I have known she was a beautiful and talented singer... but since her video went viral, the rest of the world knows too. I think it's great - she's put a lot of work into what she's done and it's fantastic that all of that work (and the prayer her father uttered over a decade ago about singing with her) would pay off.

Yet, when I thought about it, I realized I have had the good fortune of knowing MANY lovely, talented young ladies. Many who have sung onstage right next to Sarah at my favorite theater of all time (Lifehouse Theater), BEFORE she was a internet sensation. So if you're one of those people, you may be wondering, "What's wrong with me? I've been trying so hard... just as hard as she has. I have put hours into my singing and could have even done what she did, if I were given the opportunity. So why wasn't I?"

I don't claim to have the answer to that, but I hope I can provide some encouragement.

You ARE a fantastic singer. I want you to remember back to your own performances. What did people say when it was all over with, when you were greeting fans? I bet you had some kids come up to you and tell you they loved it. And I bet you also had some adults who are theatre fans (like myself) who were gushing so much about your performance that it looked like they were trying to shut up and just couldn't.

What about your acting chops? Yeah, those rock too. People like me sit on the edge of their seats, totally with you in everything you do on the stage. You transport them into your part, and they feel what you feel and see what you see. This is why I almost always emerge from Lifehouse Theater with a new pond's worth of tears on my face. You execute the part so convincingly... so poignantly... that we just can't help ourselves.

Although I didn't struggle with jealousy this time around (I figure there's no WAY I could have come close to that kind of performance and can't afford tickets to a Kristin Chenoweth concert anyway, so why not just be super-happy instead?), I HAVE been known to have the little green bug bite me. Prominent times in my life. In fact, just after my daughter was born, I decided I wanted to be a Hollywood actress. I contacted an amazing photographer about headshots and he was extremely kind. He offered me an enormous discount after my family and I visited his studio. Not long after I did all of this, I had a dream (that I believe was from God) basically telling me that I had a choice: my family or Hollywood. I was brokenhearted because I wanted both... but of course I went with my family. That was when my husband suggested Lifehouse Theater to me in the first place. It's probably good that I didn't jump into it right away, because God still had a few kinks in my character to work out before I would have been ready.

Anyway, enough about me. This post is about YOU. I don't blame you for being jealous. You've worked hard, probably for most of your life. You might also teach voice lessons, or maybe you took lots of singing lessons when you were younger. Musical Theatre is probably your world... something you can't imagine life without. I felt the same way about acting. What I was able to come to the conclusion to (with the Lord's help) was that I'm not right for fame. At least not the kind of fame I would have gotten from being in Hollywood. Some people can handle it, but I found out it would all go to my head.

I would have spent more and more time away from my family, doing what "they" wanted me to do, and less time listening to that still small voice and the Word of God. I discovered that God chooses the meek to inherit the earth, and that some of the people we will see in the highest places in Heaven will probably be people we know little to nothing about. I found out that I had important little things to do.

Once I learned not to be jealous, I found that the best thing to counteract it, for me, was just being happy for people. It's that simple! In the Bible, Johnathan was the one who had the claim to the throne, but he was willing (although he didn't get to see it with his own eyes) to stand aside and let David, his friend, take the throne. I'm sure he had plenty of reason to be jealous... so why wasn't he?  I think it's because he chose to celebrate with his best friend rather than sulk. I found out that I had a choice: I could join the party and eat cake and have a blast dancing like a crazy white person with no rhythm; or I could sulk, refuse the cake, and let that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach rule my life for the next few weeks. I actually learned that from Lifehouse as well - surrounded by beautiful, talented people who were nothing but humble and kind. You can BE that gorgeous, gifted person (in fact, you probably already are, for me)!

I get the jealousy thing... believe me, I do. You see the celebrities getting things handed to them on a silver platter just because everyone knows who they are, and you might think, "Why don't people know ME yet? I want to walk a red carpet, get those crazy-awesome gift bags you see at award shows, go to the front of the line just 'cause I'm famous..." It's hard to live a life without immediate reward, or in the spotlight where everyone notices when you're awesome.

(But did you ever think about this: that same spotlight also captures you in your worst, most embarrassing moments. The times when you made a poor choice, and wish it never happened? I have a feeling a certain Cyrus will be older and wiser one day and wish the VMA incident hadn't.)

God has done things in my life that I haven't wanted Him to do. On the flipside, there have been times where He's done nothing and my prayers have been crying out for Him to help, asking Him why there is silence. I have learned that although I don't always like it, He does know what's best for me. And His timing is perfect. You never know... you might have your moment, too. And wouldn't it be funny if that moment came through Sarah Horn herself. :)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fro Wisdom and Happy Trees

When I was a kid (and there were no Saturday morning cartoons, namely because it wasn't Saturday and I didn't have 200+ channels to choose from), I used to sometimes find myself watching "The Joy of Painting" by Bob Ross. 

For those of you who haven't had the honor of seeing the show, it was an older show (first aired in '83) that centered around painting. Bob Ross, a soft-spoken man with a soothing voice and peaceful demeanor, taught the viewer how to draw numerous landscapes over a ten-year span. 

There are a few emotions I remember feeling strongly as I watched the show, including  admiration and awe (because he was so GOOD at painting!), jealousy (again - SO GOOD at painting!), but most of all, outrage. 

Why would I be outraged, you ask? And why, especially, would I be outraged by a show that I just claimed featured a mild-mannered painter (I mean, he calls his trees "Happy Trees," fer cryin' out loud! How can a kid be outraged by that)?

Well, I'll tell you. I wasn't outraged because Bob Ross was a bad man. I wasn't outraged because I felt he was a bad painter. 

I was outraged because he painted differently than I thought he should have. 


See, bein' a young punk kid, I saw these masterpieces in the beginning of the show, and then I would watch him construct it with his paint. At first it was OK, but inevitably he'd so something unexpected (like take his paint and smear it all around the canvas until it looked like an ugly blob to me) and I'd call to the TV: "WHY??? You just ruined it! You killed the painting!" I would sit, frustrated and almost unwilling to watch the rest of the episode, because I thought the painting was irredeemable. 

But it WAS.

Every SINGLE time... EVERY time I thought a painting was damaged beyond repair by some unknown whim of the painter's, he brought it back. He added detail that I'd never even thought to use, and he breathed life into the canvas. 

I may not have known what he was doing, but I didn't have to know what he was doing. HE knew. 

And what he was doing was beautiful. 

There's a lesson in there for me. When I started out on this journey called Life, I thought everything had to be perfect from the start. I didn't want to allow myself room to make messes. I didn't want there to be any ugly blobs in my life... things that didn't make sense to me. In "The Joy of Painting," Bob Ross didn't call his screw-ups "mistakes". He called them "Happy Accidents," and that's slowly what I'm learning to do in my own life. 

I can mope and complain about the things I don't understand: the things that are unpleasant and ugly in life... or they can be Happy Accidents. I can learn from them and grow into a better person having known the lessons that they taught me. Those flaws are still waiting to be redeemed, and I know they can be. 

It turns out that a mild-mannered artist knew more about life (and painting) than I wanted to give him credit for, and I'm glad he did. :)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

To my female friends

To my female friends: I think a lot of us (if not ALL of us) struggle with body image issues. 

Even if it weren't just body image, we sometimes believe we're not smart enough, good enough, talented enough. 

I just wanted to let you know that is a LIE. You may not see your true beauty, but God does, and your friends do. 

I know it might be hard to accept because you've heard the opposite so long (whether from the media, mean people, or yourself) but you are LOVELY.

I look through my friends list and I realize that I am surrounded by stunning women and young ladies. 

You are talented. I have had the honor of discovering your talents as I have gotten to know you. 

You are intelligent. You don't have to have perfect grammar or be a scientist to be considered smart and capable. 

There are many things I admire in you... so even if you don't believe it for now, just trust the judgment of your Lord and your friends and dare to believe that you are who He says you are.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Brokenness that Won't Die


What I can't tell you is that I don't feel like I matter. Because I'm a mother. Because I have screaming, squeaky things that depend on me for nourishment, rest, and play. They're inconvenient. You'd rather not deal with them. Yet in not dealing with them, you are also not dealing with me. You are not dealing with a wounded mother, who hopes the best for her friends but has precious little time to spend with them. You are not dealing with a person who has seen her lifeblood, at the tender ages of four and two, go through things you can't even imagine happening to your child (or the children you will have one day). You are turning a blind eye to my hopes and dreams, my gifts. I want to bring joy to people, yet too often I feel as if no one cares whether I live or die, because even my encouragements go unnoticed.

I understand the desire for an interruption-free day... probably better than any of your single friends. Yet when it comes down to it, “No Children Allowed” is just another way you say “YOU aren't allowed,” because the person who does sacrifice their time to watch over my kids, does so to the point of exhaustion, and the others weary easily. I can't afford childcare – I'm lucky I can afford our groceries, and even that is with the help of state programs such as WIC and utility assistance programs. So “No Children Allowed,” to me, isn't just a matter of me needing to find a sitter. I can't afford one. Our parents graciously watch our children for free, aware of our circumstances, but we also don't want to take advantage of them to the point of wearing them out.

I work with kids who are so blessed that they don't realize that phones can be anything other than “smart”. I work with kids who vacation in places I only dream of visiting. I watch families with plenty, and I sometimes wish that my family could accomplish that – that we could enjoy a beautiful vacation in a wonderful place. Instead, I get to indulge the children while they go on about their own decadent lifestyles, and I think, “Wow, I wish I had a fraction of the spending money you have.” Some days are very difficult; they have plenty and a reprieve, while I sometimes feel as if my feet are cemented to the ground. I can't take extra jobs, as our children's caregivers are already taxed, yet we can hardly make ends meet. This would be tolerable if I had friends... yet the only social outlet I have is on the computer, and I find that time there only sinks me further into the feeling that people don't truly care for me.

I suppose this is my fault. When I had my first child, I withdrew into a cocoon of mommyhood. I ceased ministry-related obligations, and when I did want to come back, they no longer felt they needed me. I could help out in Sunday School, they volunteered, but ever since I became a mother (and because both my husband and I worked nights) this sounded impossible for me. Knowing that I wasn't wanted or needed caused me to spiral even farther downward, and now (despite praying that I would have forgiveness and begging for theirs) I can't look at them without feeling a stab of pain and remorse. I had been a leader there for four or more years, and had attended twice as many as those years. These were my friends, people I had known for a very long time. I had said and done things in anger, but I'd also come to them asking forgiveness and I politely told that they had no need for my drama. I was hurt going away from that meeting.

Then, in a blessed moment of redemption, I discovered I could start teaching my daughter's age group. I was unable to come some of the days when my kids were sick, and had also committed to do stunt work on Sundays. I spoke to the other teachers about it, and they said it would be fine to come after the show was over, since they would only be practicing the Christmas Program. I was grateful for both opportunities, and was looking forward to returning to teaching, when I received a very polite letter stating that I would no longer be teaching because I couldn't keep my commitment. It stated that I should have told the person in charge of the teachers, but it regretfully didn't cross my mind to ask him since the other teachers had given me the go-ahead. I honestly forgot that he'd said to let him know if there were any changes to our personal schedules. So I wept and apologized to him as well, and I felt like a complete failure as a mother and a teacher.

And I still do.

I have accomplished nothing. All of these grand dreams of mine were for naught. I find myself just growing more jaded: why hope when all of life is so disappointing? And the one thing I long for most is still the one thing that's been denied me for these (almost) seven years, since Amber Shrader passed: One friend. Just one good friend... someone who loves me for who I am, who I don't have to question myself around. Someone who laughs at my stupidity and gets excited about my silly dreams with me. One person. This one elusive person has broken my heart more than the people who have falsely imitated her. I almost wish I had never met Amber at all. She was just too good, too joyful, too loving and full of grace. In my search for a friend, I still have found none.

And perhaps because of it, in searching for my own worth, I have found none.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No Closure


He made me feel special – like I was one in a million. And maybe he really thought I was, but after a while, he didn't treat me like that. He treated me like his trophy. Like a piece of meat he wanted to show to the world. He told me I HAD to wear a dress to a party at a friend's house when it was freezing outside, and in the same time span, told me that if he became a rock star, would be “obligated” to sign a fan's breasts if the situation arose. I lost the small bit of self-respect I had, and I felt like I was the “queen concubine” of the house: the #1 whore. There were lots of guys who would go over to his house to party, and girls would come over too, but I was the one who was ALWAYS there. I didn't sleep with anyone else, but it almost felt like a status symbol: being his girl. The other girls were called all kinds of things, but no one (that I know of) talked crap about me, because they would hear about it. I was the “coolest” one. It sounds weird that my pride would be so swollen while my self-respect was gone... but it was. When I got a job, I was automatically expected to pay for everyone's food with my hard-earned money, which ticked me off since he didn't have a job himself.

I didn't like what he expected me to do to him. I didn't like what he wanted me to do for him. Pretty soon, I didn't like him anymore. Even then, I stayed with him. That was the worst thing I could have done... I led him on because no matter how angry he made me, and no matter how temporarily I imagined our relationship would last, I was afraid to imagine life without him. I couldn't see myself having a future with him, though. A few times, the thought entered my mind that I may end up pregnant with his child, and immediately my mind went into battle mode, strategizing exactly how I would remove him from my child's life. His house wasn't a safe place to be. It wasn't a place for a child: there was alcohol everywhere, marijuana  bongs, drugs... the place was infested with cockroaches (and when I say infested, I mean that they were even inside the microwave time display). The house was hardly ever cleaned. It was a party house, and there was no way I was ever going to let my child into that environment, even if it meant calling the authorities to rat his family out in order to declare him and the home “unfit”.

Finally, I realized I didn't want to be with him anymore. I broke up with him, but he was like a magnet, always drawing me back to him. I realized that the only way I could get out of our pattern of lust for good would be to break all contact with him. I stopped calling, stopped coming over. I was still in love with him. It broke my heart at first... I chose not to date anyone for a year after I'd made that commitment, and throughout that year I found myself crying late at night and wondering what he was doing. Several times I held the phone in my hand, my mind screaming his number and trying to will my fingers into dialing. He called me a couple times too, crying and in desperation, missing me. I don't know how I found the strength to tell him no... it must have come from God.

Years later, after I'd gotten married and had a daughter, I kept having dreams about him. I hated it at first (who wants to be reminded of their ex?) but after about a week, I realized that maybe I needed to talk to him again. I'd broken off our relationship very immaturely (I don't know how else I could have done it at that moment, but I did regret that it happened that way) by not contacting him again. I set out to apologize to him, but he'd blocked me from the account I tried to contact him on. I tried to ask a mutual friend to send my apology for me, but he wouldn't listen to the friend. Finally I got brave and told his girlfriend that I was sorry for the way I'd ended things. I was clear to say that I am not sorry THAT we broke up, but sorry for the way I went about it. She was surprisingly respectful (though of course, not thrilled) and told me that after me, she had to pick up the pieces. I felt awful for that... but I also knew that there was probably not going to be a chance of her passing along that apology to him, especially since mention of me tended to put him in a bad mood.

Not long after that, he died in a freak accident on an ATV. I never did get to say I was sorry. I was cruel, vain, jealous, and vindictive back then... and he was one of the many who suffered for it. After he died, there was no closure. People I had loved died before him, but that was different. They loved me and they knew I loved them. This... all that was left was a gaping hole, and utter disbelief. Bitterness took root, and I found a way to be angry with him even after he was gone. Though completely illogical, my brain screamed, “HE PLANNED THIS! HE DID THIS ON PURPOSE TO SPITE ME!” For all of my efforts, I had absolutely no root of hope to hold to; no salve for my wound.

Memories came unbidden and I was reminded just how kind he had been to me at times.  He made me feel beautiful and smart when I thought I was ugly and stupid. Once, I'd been injured and he took weeks to nurse me back to health while dealing with my awful crabby attitude. It wasn't long after these shows of kindness that I broke up with him.

For all the memories,  I couldn't think of a single time I had been kind to him. Even now, I can't. 

Your Story is Important

I keep hearing that lately. "Your story is important."

Every time I hear it, I picture me pointing at myself, with a look of disbelief. "Me?"

The truth is, as much a fan as I am of my story (I love writing and it's always been my way to process my emotions), I doubt that anyone else can be inspired by it.

I mean, there are far more inspirational stories out there. Mine's kinda boring by comparison.

Being a mom of youngins adds to these feelings. No one really cares how many dirty diapers I changed today... and as a mom, I sometimes feel less important than the people with REAL meaning to their lives. The people working for charities, heading up support groups, starting businesses and thriving. Who wants to hear about a lady who thinks she's probably at least a little certifiable, and does a bunch of random crap for fun? Where is the great inspiration behind that?

In fact, that's probably why, if you'll notice, I took a break from blogging on here for a while. I got so driven by the numbers and started to use them to gauge my value. Even when there were a lot of numbers, I felt stupid when there weren't any comments. And then I realized that my story probably just doesn't matter.

What's one story when there are millions of stories to look for, right? And millions of perspectives to read. So many people are better at wording their stories than I am.

Well... I don't know what one story is against millions. But I'm not even sure that's what it's about. I think it's about the ONE person who my story MIGHT touch. The ONE person who may identify with it. The ONE person who could gain strength from knowing my weaknesses.

That's who I want to share my story with.

The other day, I took a chance and shared a snippet of my story. I started writing a document called "The Hard Parts" about the difficult parts of my journey. I shared a piece about my schizophrenic uncle, thinking no one would find it significant... but someone did. Someone happened to read it, who had dealt with the same sort of thing with her brother. She said that what I wrote had brought her to tears, and she thanked me for writing it.

That's the kind of person I want to write for.

Not the masses.

Just the one lonely soul, who, like myself, is just trying to figure out their way.

I may not be the one to show them the way... but I will travel alongside them.