Unmitigated Gratitude in the face of gray hair…

Well, it’s official! I am 52 today.  Not that this is earth shattering news for the world but in my world it is a little life changing. Man, it feels like I was 51 just yesterday. Where does the time go….

Today is a bit gray-literally, not metaphorically- there are crows skipping in the bare branches of the old oaks in our woods and the air filling with a feathered version of Marco Polo. I would prefer the trill of spring birds but this will suffice. As the sun gradually begins to wake itself up I can’t seem to shake the grayness resting on my shoulders-and its not my hair.  I want today to be filled with all good things! I want to feel celebrated and special because it’s my birthday but instead I feel groggy, unstill, and untethered.

I’ve had a series of texts-some waiting for me when I woke up (you two get bonus points 😉 ) and others trickling in as the morning goes on. I love each one.  The best thing to happen to my day so far has been the 4 year old rendition of “Happy Birthday dear Miiiiiim, Woo.”-which I will carry with me throughout the day. Your heart cannot get any lighter than when you hear a sweet little voice sing with gusto and love.

If this all sounds like a pity party under way then you might be on the right track.  To make it complete I will add that the check engine light in my car has come on, I have to go in for pre-op testing this afternoon, my ninja blender may have whirred its last whir and its 17 degrees outside. It’s suppose to be spring and 17 doesn’t cut it. Ok, enough of the groaning.

I am doing the Sacred Holidays Lent study again this year-and leading a group of really wonderful women online as we journey together.  One of the practices set up as part of the study is Sabbath. I think incorporating Sabbath into a study like this is a great addition. Oddly enough, though, it falls on Wednesday’s-which takes a little getting used to!  While it isn’t possible to take a Wednesday off every week, it forces us to pay attention; to look for those moments when we can breathe in the peace of stopping, acknowledging, and praising within our daily routines.  This makes sense. And it is a great practice for any day.

The other thing this study offers is a space to begin with written prayer.  Written prayer can be hard. It is hard to put down into words the truth of our need, our sin, our failures.Writing it all down makes it all very real and, once in writing, permanent. In our study there is a process that we are guided through that goes like this:

Praise God

Repent of Sin

Ask for Others


Yield to God

Wait and Listen

Having it laid out like this provides a very intentional process and writing it out can be even more telling.  This morning as I trudged through the waking up process-where said Ninja may have met its demise under the auspices of a special birthday coffee-I can’t say I was thrilled to see the prayer box staring at me from the page. I took a deep breath and was immediately filled with gratitude. Yeah, that last sentence? Not really. That’s how it should have gone. In truth I stared at the box, drank some coffee (now, less than special), drank some more coffee. Checked Instagram. Saw that Google wished me a happy birthday and checked out what happened on this day in history. I stared at the box again, sighed heavily and waited. And then morning prayer spilled out…

Oh, Lord. My God. How excellent is your name in ALL the earth. Thank you. Thank you Lord for today. For this now. Even though I am tired, YOU are still good. Even though I feel weak, you are STILL good. Even though my attitude is in the tank, you are STILL GOOD. Even though my thoughts wander, YOU are still good. Even though my check engine light is on, you are still GOOD. Even though I feel afraid, YOU ARE STILL GOOD. Even though I am anxious, YOU ARE STILL GOOD.  Oh, GOD, you are STILL GOD and ALWAYS GOOD……….

I’ll stop there. It goes on for a while. Nothing beautifully eloquent or well written but an outpouring of heart that was both unexpected and very welcomed. There is something wonderful that happens when defenses come down in the presence of God. I live a very guarded existence and I have been accused of thinking way too much. My prayer today became an uninhibited litany of reminding myself that God is still ALWAYS good-whether my circumstances are good, bad or unremarkably ordinary. What IS remarkable is the sense of true praise and gratitude that came in these four words that will be a mantra for my day: YOU ARE STILL GOOD.

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.

Thomas Merton

A dear friend just left me a message and reminded me that God chose this day for me to be-but he chooses everyday-for each of us-and it is in this extraordinary and astonishing truth that we can find praise and gratitude in every situation and, in turn, find Him there.

You Are Free*-yeah, this one is different…

My day begins a little like this-I peek through sleep filled eyes to see what is on the other side of my window. Rolling over, I groan a bit and drag myself out of bed. Lumbering toward the bathroom, I begin the laborious task of pulling on my straitjacket for the day.

I lift the heavy garment, lamenting that I’d rather be back in my warm bed than heading into another day that, let’s face it, will be status quo. I slide one arm into the first sleeve while facing the mirror and assessing my morning face and hair. Ugh, too old, too gray, too fat again today. Shrugging into the second sleeve, I go over my to-do list for the day all the while wishing I didn’t have to try and force my thighs into jeans.

Making my way into the kitchen, I grab my phone and begin mindlessly scrolling through messages, emails, Instagram and Facebook with one hand while skillfully buckling myself into the multiple straps on my burdensome, bulky coat.  Image after perfect image reminds me of my less than perfect life. Encouraging posts by amazing people leave me feeling feeble rather than able.  Why does everyone else have it all together and I can’t manage to pour yesterdays coffee without spilling? I mean, seriously, someone’s sink full of dirty dishes is actually beautiful! Mine is just gross.  Eight minutes into the day and that straitjacket is getting tighter by the second with fresh buckles appearing as if by magic.

As the day goes on the growing apparatus constricts and weighs down my psyche. It blurs my ability to see what I am surrounded by-distorting my perception and tripping me up. By the time night rolls around my day has become a spiral of comparisons, contradictions and failures that have turned my little strait jacket into something that would rival Jacob Marley’s spectral baggage.

Dramatic? Maybe a little. I may not, literally, don a strait jacket every morning but I place myself in the way of distractions, push towards a perfection that was never meant for me, and wear myself out with comparisons. It’s all a form of bondage. It’s also sin. God did not create us to become each other-we were created for Him, by Him to fulfill only the roll we were created to fulfill. Each comparison, each self-appointed failure, each act or thought of self-loathing imprisons our hearts and keeps the life God intends for us at arm’s length. The worst part? I know this-I have read this and been told this over and over and, yet, I repeatedly forget that the creator of the universe created each and every one of us for His purpose-not for our platforms,  profiles, our profundity, our _(you fill in the blank)_. We were created for His pleasure and His purpose.

Yes, he uses each of us differently and there is the expectation that we are to use our gifts as we have been equipped. But, when the focus shifts towards someone else’s work, towards being more, to being other than what we are meant to be then we lose sight of Him in the blur. We drift and all our work, striving and competing become an idol.  When we need to be directly focused on Him and His leading-only glancing to the side when it is right, we find ourselves intently focused on other things that may even look like they are good for us. We may not even realize we are doing this! It can creep in and become a subtext that will twist our story, slant it ever so slightly so that we don’t notice the shift.  Soon we are glancing to the left and right more often than looking straight ahead, glancing God’s way only to make sure He is still there.

When we look outside of God for our fulfillment-flipping through endlessly perfect images or working towards something that was never really meant for us but is considered a ‘should’,  attempting to curate a perfect life- we judge our purpose and existence against what isn’t even ours to begin with. Does that make sense? We become mired in the maelstrom of the world, and our perceived lack within that world, forcing us to strive in directions that lead to someone else’s idea of perfect. This ends up being a recipe for bitterness, disenchantment, envy and all kinds of other monsters to torment our already complicated lives.

I won’t lie-I am constantly looking at what others are doing-comparing my life to theirs and coming up short every time.  I live in bondage to fear, to what my life might look like to someone else, to those innocuous little sins that tear at the ragged edges of our best efforts leaving tatters in place of the beautiful garments we are meant to wear.   I cling to these tatters, their familiarity, and their history. After all, I have been wearing these same clothes all my life. I am guilty of keeping myself in the bondage of bad habits.

…”No on tears a piece out of a new garment to patch and old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.”  Luke 5:36

I don’t know how many times I have read this over the years. It comes immediately before the parable of the wineskins-one I am more familiar with. 5:36 stopped me in my tracks when I read this commentary:

“Jesus is like a new piece of cloth. No seamstress worth her salt would take a new piece of cloth and patch it ont an old garment. Such a match would produce two problems. The new cloth will tear the old, and the pieces of material will not match. There is irony here: the patch that is suppose to fix the garment would end up ruining both. This new era Jesus brings simply cannot be wed to old practices. It is new and requires new ways.”  IVP NT Commentary Series

No wonder I keep myself in tatters. I am constantly trying to patch my life up-applying scripture and Jesus slipshod while clinging to my old shabby threads.

I recently read a book, You Are Free by Rebekah Lyons*, which pushed me in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Years ago, I had given up on Christian writing finding myself never able to live up to the standards within the pages. I would try so hard to implement-try to be like the words the author’s laid out.  This was the equivalent of today’s social media influence. I only ever read what the authors wanted me to see and I believed that they were these perfect people, these perfect Christians and their perfect books left me feeling oh, so, less than.

I dipped my toe back into Christian writing two or three years ago after reading Shūsaku Endō’s Silence, one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read(yes, the movie is out but I haven’t seen it). I was compelled to explore what my faith meant to me, the measures I would take to preserve that faith and, ultimately, if I really did believe. The journey that followed grew me but I continued to struggle internally with insecurities, fear and judgment.  There is a thread of not being deserving-not being good enough-so deeply and intricately woven into my life that I have mistaken it to be my life-not just a part. This past, this garment I put on day after day, clings to me weighing me down.

A series of books followed that I would nod and earmark my way through but nothing really grabbed hold of me. I would apply a concept or two only to have them fall off after a while. I will admit that when I found Lyon’s book I thought it would be a good read but expected it would be similar to past books. Online I liked her style and her honesty but I had no idea what I was in for.  You Are Free was the beginning of my unraveling. Don’t worry, I haven’t come completely undone-this was a good unraveling. Kind of like finding a thread at the bottom of a really itchy sweater and as you pull its undoing gives you such relief.

You Are Free is rich with personal story and filled with very real and very accessible truths. There are no ten step practices to get you from point A to point B, no shortcuts, but Lyons lays out the idea of true freedom so clearly, so directly that I was finally able to see something different.

She didn’t leave out the unlovely parts. Her story of anxiety resonated with my story of anxiety; her ideas of performance and striving, of doing and being more met with mine. Her encounter with freedom left me believing that it was something that I too could find!  Had she written just another ‘how to’ kind of book I don’t think I could have seen what was there. Lyons unfolded the fabric of her life and laid it out-imperfections and all-and showed me how her tatters were made not just whole but new. She showed the messy part of taking the tatters and casting them to the wind and putting on freedom-real freedom. She didn’t try to mend the old with the new, she didn’t patch anything-she let it go.

Lyon’s story didn’t leave me feeling less than. Through her storytelling she revealed, she showed, what freedom is and that it is available to me. I don’t need to continue the never-ending task of trying to sew new patches onto my old story. I can take it off-no one but me continues to put that straight jacket on morning after morning. No one but me pulls the straps increasingly tighter-I can release them into Jesus and take a deep breath. I can let it fall from my shoulders and breathe freely.

After reading You are Free ,I keep seeing this image in my mind of an old table, gouged and stained from years of abuse but sturdy. Lyon’s comes to the table and unfurls a crisp and beautiful cloth in the air. It drifts quietly down, covering over all the evidence of this tables past-making it renewed and refreshed- ready to be used for what it was intended for all along. Rebekah Lyons draws you in through rich truths and rich story to create a work that both challenges and pushes the reader without pushing them away. She brings you along as she unfolds freedom in her own life and invites you to do the same. Add this one to your list of must-reads.

*You are Free releases today and while I did recieve a copy of the book for review, as always, my views are my own. I believe life is too short to waste your time or mine so I only post the good stuff.  I am not paid for my reviews or endorsements..

Image courtesy of Katy Boatman and the You Are Free Launch team