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The beat o’ my wild heart

Every year I take time to study St. Patrick with my kids. His story has always seemed remarkable to me. Everyone spends part of their life in a wilderness, but, once they’ve escaped, how many people choose to return to it?

St. Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a teenager, escaped in his early twenties, and spent the next few years studying to become a member of the clergy. Then he had a vision, which he believed was God calling him back to the Irish people. So, he went.

Much of what we know about St. Patrick is legend and guesswork. It is, however, believed that he wrote a prayer titled ‘Breastplate’. This is one of my favorite excerpts:

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

Whoever wrote this spent time in the wilderness. Nothing reminds a person of the magnitude of God’s greatness and their own smallness quite like the wild. I spend time in the deserts and the forests to see how God has provided for his creatures and I love being reminded just how much I rely on the care of my Creator.

I arise through a mighty strength that is not my own. I take another step through a mighty strength that is not my own. I overcome obstacles, conquer my fears and reach the end of my journey through a mighty strength that is not my own.

The writer of ‘Breastplate’ knew this as well:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise.

 This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Eph. 5:14

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I lose something, but not my mind, for once. (And then get it back!)

There is one thing that you can almost always count on when you spend time in the wilderness: when you are carrying around that much baggage, tangibly and metaphorically, you are bound to lose something.

It may be your favorite bandana (lost to the sea on the beaches of Hawai’i in 2015)

It may be something good, like your fear of taking three kids hiking in a different state, by yourself, on a trail you’ve never been. (Sedona, 2016)

Loss has always frustrated me more than anything else in my life – for the plain and simple fact that it reminds me that I am not in control. And, boy, do I dislike that. But I’ve been praying to have a heart like Job, able to praise God despite loss, and a situation this last week proved to me that I am learning and that gives me SO MUCH HOPE!

The kids and I headed out into our beloved BLM to explore last week, since the temperature was finally above 32 degrees. We ended up walking 5 1/2 miles – I had started out the trip with a scarf because of the wind, but had gotten too warm and taken it off. The next day, I realized the two necklaces I had been wearing were missing.

We were on our way to a movie and dinner to celebrate my two oldest’s birthdays and I told myself: “I am not going to let this ruin the evening for them or me. God, I don’t know why I’m experiencing this right now, but you do. Help me be OK with that.”

After thinking back over the previous couple of days, I figured they had gotten caught in my scarf and were ripped off when I removed it on our walk. So, Saturday, while my husband was at work, the kids and I prayed and retraced our steps. No luck. Again, I fought off my disappointment.

The truth is, I’ve had a lot of disappointment in the last year. And every hurdle seems to have a sequel. I’ve had several things go missing in the last few weeks and it hasn’t felt like a coincidence. Each one has just been one more reason to doubt whether God is really, truly, good. Or have they? What if they are really just opportunities to practice what I have struggled with for so long: laying my burdens down. You don’t summit a mountain without preparation. You don’t climb Monkey Face without some practice. You don’t run a marathon without putting in some miles. Maybe you don’t learn to let go unless you practice with the little things? I know that losing necklaces is pretty low on the tragedy scale, but I’m fragile. I’m weak. I’m vulnerable.

I had to fight the urge to ask ‘Why, me?’, ‘Again?’, ‘Doesn’t this seem a little petty considering what I’ve already been through?’

And I said, ‘I trust you,’ instead. And it was so difficult. Not to say, but to MEAN.

The next day was Sunday. I was walking past my jewelry organizer (which is mostly empty because I pretty much wear the same thing for weeks, switching between a few different things) and I glanced at it. And I saw them. Of course, I had already looked there, but there they were, just the same. I don’t remember taking them off or putting them away. Maybe I didn’t.

I pushed aside the desire to explain it and I smiled – just smiled, and said, ‘Thanks’.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:21

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I get real…and throw around a lot of cliches while doing it

My mess. What does it look like? Well, to be honest, I’m still working out exactly what happened. Basically, it comes down to this: I spent years wearing my rose-colored glasses, pushing through early marriage, my husband’s deployment, his injuries and medical discharge, his subsequent health problems, four miscarriages, mothering and homeschooling three kids, several moves and my husband’s on-going struggle with addiction and none of it lived up to my perfect expectations.

Sometimes before it gets better the darkness gets bigger, the person that you’d take a bullet for is behind the trigger. Fall Out Boy

I hoped. I prayed. I believed. And not receiving the answers I wanted eventually sucked the faith right out of me. In one moment, my eyes were opened to the reality of my life and I gave up. Those glasses fell off. And I am just starting to figure out how thankful I should be for that. Constructed from a combination of bad theology, pride and misplaced hope, they had hindered my ability to form honest relationships, to know myself and find my real purpose in this life – and, honestly, to be any good to anyone else. I crumbled into a heap beside the fragments of those figurative glasses and I have been slowly working to rise back up (Yes, like a phoenix, obviously) ever since. All of this has resulted in a rather unpleasant increase in the undiagnosed anxiety and depression that has come and gone since I was a pre-teen as I struggle to navigate through something I have never been before: hopeless.

Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again. Simon & Garfunkel

I wish I could put into words what it was like to be truly hopeless…but I can’t. I was empty, numb – until the other stages of grief kicked in, because that’s what I was really doing: grieving the loss of the life I thought I had. No words are adequate enough to describe what that was like. I was drawn to music. Certain songs were able to express what my poor, broken, wandering mind just could not. For better or worse. I’m sure there were some days that they helped, and some days that they didn’t.

Here’s to being human, all the pain and suffering, there’s beauty in the bleeding, at least you feel something. Three Days Grace

I felt like God had let me down.

I questioned whether he really knew what was best for me, or if he even cared.

I wondered if all of the devotion, the self-control, the goody-two-shoe thing, had even mattered.

And all of that doubt hit me like an avalanche – it was something that I had never experienced before in my I’m-just-so-sure-of-everything way of looking at the world. And I didn’t know how to think, how to process my circumstances, when I was suddenly NOT sure.

Sometimes to stay alive you gotta kill your mind. Twenty One Pilots

But like the crocus flowers that are going to start springing up around here any day, announcing that the cold will soon be over, little reminders that God is there, and, this, too, shall pass (one of my Dad’s favorite phrases) have been popping up through every step of my journey in this wilderness.

Which brings me to my last song lyrics – the ones that inspired the name of this blog and that I have played on repeat so many lonely, sad and dark days:

I’m lost without your creative spark in me. I’m dead inside, unless your resurrection sings. I’m desperate for a desperate heart, I’m reaching out, I’m reaching. All that I am is dry bones, without you, Lord, a desert soul. I am broken, but running, towards you, God, you make me whole.

~Rend Collective

I am a work in progress. Rebuilding a life with my hope in the right place, grasping those little flowers as if they were my life-blood. Because they really are. They are glimpses of the face of God. And I will hold onto every scripture I come across, every word spoken during a church service that seems directly to me, every timely word spoken by a friend or family member or posted by someone on Instagram, every ‘coincidence’ that occurs just at the right moment, every answered prayer no matter how small, every bit of evidence that God SEES me. Because I am starting to believe, again, that he really does.

“God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it – no matter what.”

Hebrews 4:12

I blame my sorry-looking art project on one of my kids (but not really)

I am not very artistic. In the times when life has been particularly difficult, I have often sighed and wished I had an artistic outlet…and then went on Etsy and bought something from someone who is. Because, retail therapy. It’s my favorite kind, especially when it means supporting someone else’s talents, of which I am extremely jealous.

But, one thing that my husband keeps reminding me through this process, is that if I don’t own my mess, then I can’t use the pieces to rebuild. They will continue to lie on the floor, suffocating under the dust of their own potential, while I keep wishing for something that isn’t and blaming everyone else for what is.

When King Solomon was building the temple, the shaping and chiseling of the structural stones was all done at the quarry, away from the build site itself. Only once the hard labor was finished, were the stones moved to the temple site and the artistry really began. In peace. No iron tool was heard while the sacred home of the Lord was constructed. (1 King 6:7) Once the building was finished, these stones, covered in cedar and overlaid with gold, were hidden from view. The true artists completed the carvings and finery of the temple, but they could never have done their work if the laborers had not been faithful in theirs.

They will continue to lie on the floor, suffocating under the dust of their own potential, while I keep wishing for something that isn’t and blaming everyone else for what is.

It took seven years to complete. My father is a contractor and I spent many hours with him on job sites growing up. I know from experience that building projects are slow – at least if they are to be done right. There are days when you move forward, and many days where it feels like you are struggling to progress. But rushing the process can be disastrous. My life is no different. As I labor through my struggles, chiseling, hammering and carving away at the cold, hard, stones, I often remind myself that if I am faithful in my work, the True Artist will be faithful in his. The finished product may not be overlaid with gold, adorned with carvings of cherubim and palm trees and flowers, but a mosaic, carefully constructed and divinely inspired.

In the end, when my work is done, God will begin his in peace and I will have rest. The result will be more beautiful than anything I could have accomplished on my own – and I won’t even have to blame it on the kids.

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*Photo of a page from Mosaic: Techniques & Traditions Sonia King, 2002

That time I was a tree mold…but not the fuzzy kind

I used to be fearless. And strong. And independent. And proud. It wasn’t a good thing. What I was really doing was building a life so that I would never need anyone else. Of course, I didn’t realize that at the time. But then I got married. Adding another person into my life should have been great…but, well, it wasn’t. There was no room in my world for anyone else.

That was when my anxiety resurfaced. The dark thoughts that crept into my mind, like that spider in my coffee cup the other day. I remember trying desperately to figure out who this person was, shaking on the bathroom floor. I certainly didn’t recognize her. Eventually, I figured out how to fix it. Not me, of course, because I didn’t believe there was really anything wrong with me. No, my husband just had to be exactly who I needed/wanted him to be, and everything would be fine.

Ten years ago, I found out he wasn’t, couldn’t be who I expected him to be. Because I didn’t expect him to be human. And he was human. (Thank God!) The truth was, I didn’t really know him at all, because I had never really let him in. I had never really listened – I was too afraid that what I would hear, wouldn’t be perfect.

We live near a national volcanic monument. Everywhere within miles of us, there is evidence of volcanic activity – the kids and I have spent hours studying igneous rock specimens. Blood-red Cinder. Obsidian as sharp as glass. There is one area where molten lava flowed through the forest so quickly that trees were completely encased, leaving their impressions in the lava as it cooled. Some of the trees were down on the ground, where hollowed-out tubes of lava can be found and, in some cases, crawled into. Other tree casts are vertical – some shallow, others deep and dark. As I walked along the path, I couldn’t help but compare myself to them. My impression is still there, but the guts and bones and sinews are nowhere to be found. The heart is lost.

Then a moment came where I looked up. And, standing out in the middle of the destruction, was a Juniper tree – another thing we have a lot of around here. A type of cedar, they tend to soak up a lot of water and destroy much of the other plant life around them, but you can’t help but admire their ability to survive. It had managed to put down roots and survive right in the midst of a graveyard.

My impression is still there, but the guts and bones and sinews are nowhere to be found. The heart is lost.

Hope can come from the strangest places. While I may feel empty and a mere shell of myself, that crazy tree reminded me that suffering isn’t the final chapter. It might not look pretty, but it’s genuine. I can’t spend my time looking down at the impression of what once was. I need to shatter it into pieces and, with the help of God, my family, my friends, strangers, become my true self – shaped by everything I have ever tried to run from.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand…

…I will put the cedar in the wilderness, the acacia and myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert together with the box tree and the cypress, so that all may see and know, consider and understand that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.’  Isaiah 41:10, 19-20

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Today I give up wrestling with the God of the Universe

I learned a lot of things growing up in a Christian home – you know, the basics: certain words are naughty, God loves a cheerful giver, you shouldn’t hit your sister (or brother) just because they hit you. What everyone failed to mention, however, was that when I chose to let Christ have control of my life, I might not like it. Who I have become on this journey, is NOT the person I wanted to be when I grew up.

In church there is always a lot of talk about letting Christ change you into who HE wants you to be, created you to be. I thought I was doing that. I thought I was making good life decisions and being nice to difficult people and staying away from ‘non-Christian’ stuff because God was helping me do what was right.

Who I have become on this journey, is NOT the person I wanted to be when I grew up.

For years he tried to show me that I had it all wrong. I wasn’t who he wanted me to be, I was who I wanted to be – doing what I wanted to do. I liked myself. I lived the saying, ‘I will do my best and let God take care of the rest.’ And I thought my best was pretty good. I thought I had it all pretty well figured out and, what I did struggle with, were just things he would deal with in time. His time. Deal with them MY way. I was patient. It’s easy to be patient when you know the plan – because you created it.

But God wasn’t onboard for that.

He tried to tell me. Nicely. He tried to show me. Gently.

But I ignored him. There’s no amount of warning from anybody that can convince you that THAT is a bad idea. I think it is just something you have to experience yourself.  (But, just in case, DON’T DO IT!)

I don’t have all of the answers, anymore. I’m 35 and I really don’t know who I am. But I’m holding on to Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”

I desperately NEED healing. But what I need more? To stop trusting my own understanding and trust in Christ. The real one.

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That is the last time I pretend monsters are not real

Several times in the last ten years, I have been faced with either dealing with pain, or ignoring it. I must be part ostrich, because I am a PRO at the latter. I would tell myself things, like:

‘I feel better today, so I must BE better. Phew!’

‘I’ll focus on something else and let God handle it.’

‘God didn’t mean for this to happen to me, so I’ll just wait for him to fix it.’

Sound familiar?

Before God forced me into actually confronting my pain, I knew what a literal desert and wilderness were, but not figurative ones. The real places are often described as harsh, untamed, deadly – but I’ve spent time in both and I know the beauty and life and wonders that can be found there. And, yes, danger. The fact is, any time you step outside your door, ignoring the realities of your surroundings could kill you. A figurative wilderness or desert is no different.

When I see problems, I want to fix them, but, when I go outside I don’t want to change the wild. I respect it’s power – stand in awe of it. I want to be prepared for whatever it could send my way. If I can do that with creation, why not the Creator? It’s time I approached life and my journey with Christ the same way I would any landscape that I have yet to explore.

Study a map. Trust your guide and what you have learned from the experiences of others. Give priority to the essentials. Limit distractions. Don’t give up.

‘It’s always further than it looks. It’s always taller than it looks. It’s always harder than it looks.’ ~The three rules of mountaineering

I spent most of my life trying to tame it. Right now, if I’m honest, I fear it. But life isn’t meant to be tamed or feared. I’m on a journey of learning to put one foot in front of the other and finding joy and hope and peace and gratitude in each step, regardless of the terrain.

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