With You

It’s been a trying couple of weeks. A migraine. Back pain. Self doubt. Fear. I stand in the kitchen as I write this today, unable to sit. Still hurting as I stand. And I wonder about all the people out there who suffer from chronic pain. I marvel at how they continue on in dignified silence, likely suffering much more greatly than I am, when all I want to do is shout from the rooftops that I need some relief.

Jesus is in the boat. 

A few weeks ago, while my friend Summer and I were having lunch, she mentioned a little something about the message she’d heard at church the weekend before. She said the pastor was talking about anxiety, and one of the things that stuck with her was his reminder to the congregation that, “Jesus is in the boat.”

Five little words that can offer so much comfort and relief.  Five little words. I wonder if she even knows how greatly that swift conversation has impacted me. That small phrase has provided me with peace and strength during the peak moments of unrest in this tough season.

“Jesus is in the boat” is referencing an event in the bible, in the book of Matthew. In Matthew 8:23-27, it says:

“23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

I don’t know about you, but there certainly have been times when I felt like I might be drowning. Overwhelmed. Unsure. Anxious. Suffering. And many don’t just suffer with physical pain, but with mental illness or family or relationship struggles. Jesus did warn us that life is life and there will be trouble in it. But He did not leave us to battle it alone. (John 16:33)

Jesus is in the boat.

Recently, I repeated that simple, yet powerfully comforting sentence to myself as the inside of my head pulsed against my skull behind my right temple in the middle of a dark, sleepless night. With each heartbeat, I feared it might eventually burst as it intensified. Have you ever had a headache that robbed your very breath? It’s kind of terrifying.

Jesus is in the boat. 

I said the soothing words again after work the other day as I tried to fold my body into my car, my spine unyielding, the muscles like concrete. And then again, minutes later, when I surrendered to the tears of frustration after finally shutting the car door.  Will this ridiculously inconvenient back pain ever go away? Is it arthritis and I’ll have it forever?

Jesus is in the boat.

It floated around in my brain as I listened to the latest update of the fragile health of a dear family member…so many things unknown. If only I could make it better. If only I knew just what to do or say. If only, if only…

Jesus. Is. In. The. Boat.

There is something about that visual…the image of Jesus in this metaphorical boat (otherwise known as my life) which comforts me in a way that little else has. With a prayer, I know He is listening, but when I also imagine this boat scene it becomes more tangible somehow.

It’s a tender proximity, a nearness that wraps me up close. It’s like the time I went deep sea fishing with my step-dad and grandpa, even though I was secretly scared to venture out so far that land would inevitably disappear from my sight. But their presence, just having them with me, made it bearable, comforting, and even became an enjoyable memory.

When I think of Jesus in my boat, so to speak, I imagine He and I together in a small, sturdy boat…the tumultuous waves crashing around us. Cocooned among wide planks of fine-crafted wood below, and the cool air which sustains life blowing past us above. Close enough for tears to be wiped from my face…close enough to look into the eye of my Savior and see His kindness and strength.

His calm.

I don’t like to complain. But I often hear myself complaining. I don’t like to worry. But I hear myself voicing questions of doubt. I don’t like to feel afraid. But the fact is, there are times when I am.  And how can we not be? We are human after all. There will be times when our weaknesses are displayed and our imperfections magnified. That is okay! Yet, if we believe, we have the privilege to have a relationship with Jesus, who tells us that He is with us always. We are not alone. (John 14:15-31)

Remembering that Jesus is in the boat fills me with renewed resolve and determination, and at the very least it’s a reminder that He’s got this handled even when I feel I don’t. He’s not only in the boat, but He has the power to calm the storm that surrounds it. And the more I can remember that, the more I will cling to it so that my hope and faith and trust will grow.

Oh, and as I finish this up, there goes my 5-month-old puppy confiscating the egg shells that I put into the trash after cooking breakfast this morning. Slimy egg whites and little brown shards all over the kitchen floor. She’s running around like a wild thing while trying to ingest her favorite of all things: fluffy, white paper towel. *sigh* Silly girl.

Gotta go.

My friends…Jesus is in the boat. 

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Arrival

At some point during the Autumn season, my memory makes an annual visit to the U.K. It’s usually when the temperatures finally start to drop, and I find myself staring unexpectedly at random yellow-tinted burnt umber treetops, dried and crisping while they contemplate the obligatory leap to the waiting ground below. A flurry of scenes from a single day are once again revived in my mind.

This happened to me last Saturday while I was sitting in a parking lot five thousand miles away from Leeds, the third largest city in England which sits on the fringe of the rolling green and cloud-shadowed Yorkshire moors and dales. Decades ago, I lived there during an academic year, an opportunity I can still hardly believe came true.

It always starts with the same remembrance of my arrival in Leeds in the Fall of 1999, or was it 1998? It must have been 1998 because the following Spring would have been ’99. That was when we took a quick trip over to Paris, and I remember my disappointment that the Eiffel Tower had been marred by a huge electronic marquee counting down to Y2K—scaffolding, green construction mesh, and all.

But back to Leeds.

I arrived on a gray and blustery day in early Fall. It was the kind of weather that perfectly brought to life all of my daydreams of the England I’d not met yet.  The little connecting flight that brought me from Heathrow dropped me off, and I battled the wind while walking across the tarmac carrying my backpack and my instrument.

Some kind British passengers on the plane had warned me that the location of the Leeds Airport on the top of hill would make the wind even worse than down in the city, but I smiled like a champion and trudged on. I was both deliriously tired from the long flight and tickled to finally be there.

Once inside the small airport, I tried to hide my grin from the jolly man who took an extra long time inspecting my bassoon at the security check. He hadn’t seen one before, he told me, as he picked it up and looked down the red maple bell joint like a kaleidoscope. He was suddenly a twinkly blue-eyed kid in a toy store.

The best part about my first day in England was that I was alone. The other student who would also be part of the exchange between our California university and the University of Leeds was not due to arrive until much later that evening. I was excited to meet England all by myself, and I just knew I would relish it.

So I gathered my things and found my way outside to a taxi stand where I was whisked away by a driver who said he had no idea where I was going. Just the sort of thing you want to hear when you arrive in a foreign country you’ve never been to, right?

We drove around for about forty-five minutes, me never truly believing he didn’t know where he was going. The cynic in me was sure he was just trying to get as much fare as he could. At the time, I did not realize how big the city really was.  He did seem earnest in his occasional stops along the way to ask for directions, and I just prayed confidently along the way. This was before cell phones were expected to be on us at all times like underwear.

Eventually, we made our way up Cumberland Road and drove through a massive arched pale stone entrance with black wrought iron gates boasting the residence hall’s name, Devonshire Hall, in white painted block letters. I immediately forgot all of my irritation on the matter of being ripped off and held my breath as we tentatively passed under the solid arch. This was it.

The taxi gurgled its way around the circular drive and made a final stop in front of wide stone steps stretching below a wall of aged glass doors. It took me awhile to find someone, anyone. Come to find out I was the first student to arrive because international students got settled in before the others.

I was given a key, mumbled goodbye to the taxi driver who charged too much, and hefted my suitcases one at a time up a few flights of stairs until I entered a door with my number on it. Finding myself boxed into a teeny space of about three feet by three feet, I encountered two more doors to choose from situated in adjacent corners. Pink doors.

Once in the right room, I looked all around me. The space was about as big as my bedroom had been at home. There was a sink along the wall which shared the door, a small wardrobe, a twin size bed, and a desk beneath the window. Someone had thoughtfully included a large single bookshelf over the bed and a reading chair in the corner.

Walking over to the window, I was delighted to find it was my favorite kind—the kind you have to crank to open. I peeked down from three stories to a vibrant green lawn and, in the corner, was a short ivy covered fence with a mysterious gate that left me wondering where it led to.

I smiled and took a breath. Then I immediately fell onto the bed and slept.

When I woke up, the shadows were long on the walls and the silence was deafening. The staff member who had given me my key said no other students would be here until the next day, at the earliest. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, sleeping in this massive hall all by myself. Yikes! I examined the deadbolt I had locked earlier. It was a pretty big lock, and quite modern despite the antiquity of the building, so I decided not to worry. Yet.

Realizing I was hungry and that the afternoon was waning, I began walking down Cumberland Road toward a small row of shops—the only shops that were in sight. It was a Sunday. Everything was closed. I was so enchanted by my surroundings that I didn’t even mind much. It was so very different from America…the textures and stone, the scents in the air…the compact cars and their skinny license plates with too many letters. I shivered inside of my black peacoat.

Resigned to the idea that I likely would not be eating that evening, I made my way back up the hill to Devonshire Hall. Along the way, the dry fallen leaves whirled around me and I found comfort in their percussive taps and scrapes on the roads and pavements. I let my fingertips dance lightly along the stones in the walls I passed as I walked. Such a sight took hold of the daydreaming part of my heart and all of a sudden I didn’t mind that I would be missing a meal. I was in England!

Halfway up the road, something furry suddenly wrapped around my leg. A sweet little gray striped kitten. She left my side and bounced up ahead, her little collared bell ringing daintily above the soft whistle of the wind. I don’t even really like cats much, but they always seem to be appearing. Like special friends meant just for me. The little cat sat and watched me make leisurely progress up the incline (no one had told me Leeds was hilly, and I was not in shape!) until the point where I was just within reach. Then she leaped up to the top of the dark, jaggedy stone wall over my shoulder and disappeared with a wave of her tail.

I stood still for a moment, waiting to see if she would return. When it became clear that she wouldn’t be coming back, I pivoted around taking in the sights around me. Cumberland Road seemed to be a residential street of sorts, save for the large church on the corner at the bottom of the road. Twilight was near, so I decided to get back to the hall.

I sighed and let in the reality of just how far away from home I was. I realized I hadn’t called my mom to let her know that I was safe and sound, so I made my way back to the giant stone arch of the hall and found a single iconic red telephone booth. The faraway sound of her voice chased away any whispers of loneliness trying to tempt me as the day’s end can sometimes do.

I don’t know that I ate after all. My memory is too foggy. But I will never forget the blustery weather, the sound of the leaves twirling about along the ground, the never ending taxi ride, the kitten…the view from my room. The way the trees arched over the road leading up to Devonshire Hall and reaching across, touching, creating a shelter from the rain.

I like to remember that day.

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Patient Urgency

A child learning in her own time. A pair of friends rebuilding trust in a relationship that is precariously on the edge. Weight loss. Waiting and working through a long, painful recovery. Writing a book.

Those are some of the things which develop a patient urgency. You want the outcome to happen now. But the reality is that accomplishing it will take months, years, or even decades. It’s not the same kind of patience it takes to stand in a long snail-like line at the DMV or sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic. You can daydream your way through those situations…no real work involved. You get to go home at the end of the day. No vulnerability needed, no real exertion.

Experiencing a patient urgency, however, is dealing with the kind of patience we find ourselves facing when we are not really waiting, but working toward something for the long haul. Putting in effort and grit. Falling and getting up again. Messing up and seeking restitution. Denying yourself what you really want because you know it´s the better choice. Knowing you’ll write 100,000 tangled words that will need to be cut down by half—and even then, you won’t have reached clarity until you’ve quadrupled your mental elbow grease.

You may even find yourself victim to procrastination because a mean little corner of your mind has convinced you that you’ll never reach your goal. Yet, you feel the pressing need to wrestle with obtaining that goal anyway because you just. have. to. Or else…or else you’ll always wonder or regret. Because the need in your heart and soul to do this thing is so eager to get there that you will put in the time and sweat and courage to make it possible. Just thinking about it exhausts you. But you go on.

Some people thrive on the mere thought of the journey. They mentally put themselves on the podium of success before the outcome is even close to being achieved. They envision greatness. They expect it.

Others find themselves battling self-criticism, self-doubt, and insecurity…which unfortunately causes the journey to be so much longer for them, so they face the threat of never reaching their destination. What those two kinds of people share, though, is that magnetic pull to accomplish something important.

The thing about those goals which require a patient urgency is that you can’t really see the end yet. It takes faith to continue on. Faith. Perseverance. Confidence. Inner strength.

It’s an urgency that pounds on the door of your heart each morning and won’t turn away if you don’t answer. A patience in believing you’ll get there if you just keep going. A delicate trust that the God who led you to this call will show up every day and walk through it with you, guiding you and giving you wisdom, comfort, and grace. He is the One who planted the seed.

It is up to you to make sure you either ¨bloom where you´re planted¨, or transplant yourself to where you need to be in order to grow and thrive.

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Sleepless Flight

In the darkness of my home, I imagine crossly that the boisterous bird outside must be the most desperate bachelor in the entire North American continent. Whatever gal he’s trying to attract surely must be sleeping.

It is half past midnight, and it seems so weird to me that a bird is out there, singing in the black of night under the invisible new moon. He seems not to care who he awakens, his pride full-grown.

His night song is persistent, shrill. I want to yank open the door and throw a shoe at whatever tree he sits in. I would never, of course…but the thought crosses my mind. Trying to tune him out, my thoughts return to an upcoming flight and I look helplessly up to the ceiling which I cannot see.

It’s stealing my sleep again. Not the bird, but the worries. This is not new, this overthinking of flying. I love to travel, but I do not like getting to my destination by air. And yet four times this season I will be facing the giant big scary sky. My wanderlust must be greater than my unease, but on nights like these I question my choice to explore.

I scowl when the bird goes on and on, once again he interrupts my worry. Accepting that he will not be silenced, I slowly realize I could be grateful he is there. I could let him be a welcome distraction from my fear of flying….the thing that keeps me up days and days and days before I ever set foot in an airport. But it is a battle, this choice of gratitude versus distress.

Squeezing my eyes shut, my senses are flooded with discontent at the thought of being on an airplane. Apprehension so strong I can feel it weighing me down, as if I’m restrained in the same way I once saw my grandmother as she was tethered to her wheelchair in the Alzhemier’s unit. The fun of it all has been sucked out of me, replaced with big fat fear. This leads to other worrisome thoughts, and I clench my teeth with the realization I’m letting it get the best of me. Again.

Through the thick, closed window panes and through the deep walls keeping the fresh air out, the night bird’s music keeps trying to remind me of something important. Summer has brought a warm tossing-turning night, and I gather my strength to kick off the covers. The window begs me to open it, but I won’t dare.

Ridiculous! I’ve been done with the anxiety. I’ll not let this bring me back to it. I shove myself out of the bed and blindly search for my glasses in the dark. My hair is annoying me, I need it off my forehead and off of my neck in this airless room. The fan is too weak, and at this moment so is my mind. I begin to pray for strength, for calm. There is so much world to see, so much laughing to do, so many people to meet, and experiences to dive into…I will not give in to this joy wreck.

As I quietly pad my way into the living room, my feet relieved to meet cool floors, I pray all the way to my favorite chair. The birdsong follows me to where I now sit with head bowed, forehead too stubborn to assist the tears which fight for release. His tune changes from frantic to sweetly melodic, and I belatedly make the connection that this nighttime companion is also connected to flight. I smile, surprised by the thought…and I think on the amazing wonder that air travel is even possible for humans.

The rhythm of the clock nearby steadies my heart, and suddenly the C.A.L.M. acronym from a recent Max Lucado book, Anxious for Nothing, flashes in my memory, the four letters white and flickering like a neon sign in the dark:

C-Celebrate God…Lord, thank you for being here with me, thank you for the opportunity to take these trips to see new places. 

A-Ask God for helpFather, please take this anxiety from me. Please help me to sleep and breathe and stop worrying over what I can’t control.

L-Leave the problem with God…I give this to you, God. Your Word says to “fear not”. So I’m just going to try really hard to do that. 

Breathe. Deep breath. I sit for a minute to give my thoughts some space. The bird is silent.

M-Meditate on good things…Thank you, Lord, for that night bird and thank goodness he finally quieted down so I can get some sleep and for reminding me of your presence.

Again, I breathe. A little deeper this time. And the air, while still not fresh, feels a little cooler and more bearable. My thoughts continue to tread on the good things. I remind myself that, for me, it’s the only thing that will cancel out the fear…the choice to think of one good thing at a time. Thought by thought.

As my fears begin to wane, I am reminded of all the ways that flying is fun and most always safe. My mother’s voice echoes in my ears from when she told me earlier in the day that just being in my house or driving a car is putting myself at risk of danger.

“So why not fly?” she countered matter-of-factly.

Her excitement for me in my adventures brings a big smile to my face. And I begin to softly imagine the lilting accents I will soon hear, and the lovely green foliage my eyes will feast on.

The pulsing rush in my ears has stopped, and I dig in Grandpa’s Desk for the little notebook of bible verses. The emerald and gold cover has edges worn, some rips and bends, but I don’t mind. I run my hand across the cover which says “Happiness is a bright and shining thing.”  This little gem has seen me through many fears, many flights.

It holds words I’ve highlighted and literally held onto…our future only truly known to God—whom I love and whom I am learning to trust, breath by breath. I joke with my friends about airport margaritas being my saving grace, but really it’s the selfless protection of Jesus. I read through the verses in the little book again, and I know that no matter what all will be well.

Before I go back to sleep, calmer now, I will leave these verses with you in case you need them, too. I will always needs them. Reading them once will never do. But each time I am reminded that I am in good hands, and each time I can feel strengthened and resolve to be a conqueror. And as I leave this paragraph, I hear the bird again…and this time I’m not annoyed for I remember it is, after all, his love song.

From My Fear Not Journal

  • “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” -Isaiah 41:10
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus.” -Phillipians 4:6-7
  • “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.” -Psalm 56:3
  • “For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” -2 Timothy 1:7
  • “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:6-7
  • “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” -Deuteronomy 31:6
  • “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” -Psalm 34:4
  • “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” -Matthew 6: 25-27

Do you have any verses, songs, or tips that help you in times of anxiousness? Please share them! Thank you.

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Ponderings

Write with me, Lord. Be my words. 

This was my prayer as I walked down the shadowed hall after a long day of work, a mountain of things to do gradually falling off my shoulders with every step toward the keyboard.

Be my words.

It is my prayer every time I write. And today I think again and again on the question “WHY do I write?“. Why do I come here, week after week, to tell a story…or to try to remind us both of God’s goodness and grace?

It’s part selfishness, part love.

The selfish aspect is that it comforts me to leave a legacy of some kind. At this web address will always be found a piece of me. In the chaos of everyday life, when the bell or the time clock or the agenda of the day drags us away from discussions of the heart and steals from us the breath of what really matters, I like knowing that I can come here so the person who needs it can read something that may make them smile…or think…or remember.

But the love part, the greater part, is having the space and place to freely speak of Jesus and how He loves you and me. The idea that maybe–just maybe–someone may see the positive side of a dreary situation and make the decision to see the light instead of being focused on the darkness: By sharing the victories in my life which have followed the battles I’ve encountered. Or simply noticing the beauty of the world around us amidst the clamoring debates and arguments and nastiness of the world.

I fear I’m not doing it right. I fear that I come here week after week trying in vain to be the encourager I set out to be and fail. My heart is so full of hope for others to find the salvation that only Jesus has given. The gift of eternal life. Or to help someone reconsider their sadness. And here I am telling again instead of showing…at least in this post. When really, it’s apparently through stories in which people connect with.

This leads me to I worry that I am not a storyteller. I worry about sharing too much…too little. I resist the advice to weave my words in a way that captures attention, and so instead I write plainly from my heart. In doing so, I risk lack of acclaim, lack of “sharing”, lack of “likes”. But the very core of my soul knows that none of that matters. The number of “hits” has nothing to do with resting in the love of God who already loves me so…and who loves you so, as well. He longs only for us to acknowledge Him and know Him and spend time with Him….to share the story of Christ to all.

Because of this, because of my prayer that God write with me, I often forego the “rules” of the writer. I ignore the fact that the most “hits” my blog has ever had was about my dog. I could write post after post about my dog in order to gain more readers, but I it feels strange to do so. At least, for now. I feel like in doing so it will be me wanting to conform to the writer’s world in order to earn a buck. Or recognition…or popularity.

Isn’t it so hard to not compare ourselves with others and just realize that we, too, are amazing? Let’s not put numbers on ourselves….instead, let’s leave the numbers to God, whose thoughts of each of us are so many that were we to count them they would be “more in number than the sand” (Psalm 139:17-18). Isn’t that where the true substance lies?

All I want to do is be here, and share words on a page inspired by the God who created us, who meets us here—you and me–in order to nudge us to think and reflect on life, love, and laughter. My God doesn’t want fancy words or perfection…He just wants me, as I am. And so, I show up and see what happens. Thank you for joining me on my journey of figuring out how to encourage. I’m still learning as I go.

Write with me, Lord. Be my words. Please. 

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Broccoli Bird

My breath…I can feel it finally returning from a few weeks lost. Caught up, it was, in excitement and self-doubt—too impatient to go deep and swell, too busy to give clarity as it ought to do.  It takes wistful, eclectic Celtic music on a chilly Sunday afternoon to find the rhythm of the air which enters and leaves my lungs, peaceful and long. Staring up at the timid sunlight stripes at the tops of the windows, I pause to be thankful for this solitary moment.

Away from the music, outside, the wind chimes are right on cue to begin their daily two o’clock performance. It makes me wonder about the silky black cat who loiters frequently in our flowerbeds.

As I walk on bare feet from the couch to the back door, I think about the next chapter I’m about to read in a book recommended over at Higher Purpose WritersBird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I’ve peeked ahead to see the next chapter is called “Broccoli”. In the middle of that thought, I rub the bottoms of my feet on the cold hard floor to somehow warm them. On days like these, they miss carpet.

Do I really want to read several pages who introduce themselves as “Broccoli”? The tree-like vegetable is something I simply tolerate out of necessity. Thinking on necessities, I turn the knob on the door leading to the backyard, curious about the cat….believing that after I check on him, I will need water and chocolate. My mind nags that only one of those is truly a necessity, but I don’t have the heart to choose a winner. It will have to be both today. My eyelashes touch the blinds as I spy midnight fur on wood.

Yes! My mind both celebrates and decides at once. Yes, the black cat lounges in the tangled tanbark yet again. The corners of my smile lift higher at the evidence of that small joy. A furry creature is good news, because life itself is always welcome here. Even though we are not cat lovers. His head swivels quickly at the first sound of the door cracking open, only a bit, just enough to peer out with both of my hazel eyes and the tip of my nose. I breathe in cold afternoon sunshine.

Will he come closer today? My breath holds, just like it has for weeks. Waiting, anxious, excited all at once. Like with the writing. We stare each other down….one heartbeat, two…my hope floats as the third and fourth beat pulse silently between us. His yellow green eyes so like mine are fascinated with something in me. He stretches his arms and legs out slowly, eyes still glued to mine—a small victory, as it is a clue that he grows more comfortable near our home. Maybe he is a she. Maybe someday we’ll make introductions. Mike and I would like that. Even if he is cat.

Before my veins pulse for a fifth time, he-she sprints to the intersecting boards where four properties meet. With one swift leap, he is up and over the other side of the fence heading to the place we assume is where he calls home. Today, though, he stops a moment and bends his neck to look backward at me one more time. He stares. I don’t cower. My turf…but I plead with my eyes for him to stay. To add a little mischief and laughter to our forsaken backyard now that Amber has gone. With a slow blink, he reassures me he’ll return. I wave small, hopeful, and pivot back to face Bird by Bird waiting on the arm of my reading chair.

Yes to the broccoli, too, then. Because just like the hope that someday I will pet that cat and be close enough to hear him purr, I want to learn more about writers and how they think. What works and what doesn’t. If I am like them. And with each word, the author draws me in to a sense of familiar and home. She’s already had me whispering yes to her sentence that says “Writing can be a desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”

Hand on the door, pulling it closed, I recall my jaw dropping—like that moment when you realize there’s a surprise birthday party going on and you belatedly realize the party is for you—when on the fifteenth page I read, misty-eyed as it hit me, “Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.” 

And so, as this adventure of carving out time to write for some kind of meaningful purpose sometimes has me breathless with many emotions, defeat will not be one of them. I’ll even read about broccoli, if need be. As I leave this page to go dive into another, I can’t help but be thankful for music, which leads me to nature, which leads me to cats, which leads me back to learning, which leads me back to writing.

Time, patience…perseverance. Breath.

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

Sing Anyway

Some people sing so beautifully that it causes others to stop in their tracks with wonder. I’m not one of those people. There were clues along the way. For example, I vaguely recall my little brothers asking me to stop singing in the car during weekends at Dad’s. At the time, I thought optimistically that it was because the radio took precedence. However, things started to become clear when I joined the college choir as a rookie, eager to raise my voice in song with others because it just felt so good to sing.

On the first day, when it came time for introductions and to share with each other what part we sing, I said to the group that I didn’t know. Soprano, alto? I had no idea.

“I have no idea”, the choir director teased in a Minnie Mouse voice in front of the small class. We all laughed.

My feelings weren’t hurt, but some of the curious looks I got when we all started singing were hints that I was out of my element.  After that experience, I decided to hide my voice in the ginormous choir at my church on special occasions, like Father’s Day. I just wanted to sing, and maybe this would be a better opportunity to sing where no one would notice. Well, maybe no one noticed, but I struggled. My throat fought against the imaginary boa constrictor which had taken up residence around my neck. Now I was just overthinking it.

So I thought perhaps the best thing to do if I was going to seriously try to improve was take a voice class. Oh, that was painful. My vocal stylings were akin to nails on a chalkboard as I stood alone in front of my classmates, knees shaking, trying to make something beautiful out of something obviously broken…their glances creeping towards the mid-century modern windows as if looking for an escape from my interesting performance of Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s The Willow Song gone wrong.

When I got married, my husband gently confirmed my suspicions without even saying a word. I started to notice he’d stealthily do pretty much anything to avoid my singing. On days I just couldn’t help myself and start to belt out tunes in the kitchen while doing dishes, I noticed the volume would go up significantly on the TV in the next room. At first he dropped those kind of subtle hints, but now that I have accepted I am vocally challenged we laugh about it together and he literally just begs me to stop. Therefore, I sing even louder. In his face.

Part patriotic respect, part golden opportunity, my students and I sing a song every day after the flag salute. It’s the best moment of the day. We’re mostly off key, all of us, and as a musician who plays the bassoon and clarinet I could help them improve their singing (at least, I think I could) but I don’t. I don’t because they are happy and in love with singing and they don’t really care that they don’t sound perfect, so that is good enough for me. Plus we have to move on to the math lesson. I notice some days their little heads will swivel around with eyes wide as saucers when I really tank the “rockets red glare” part, but they’re so sweet that they don’t say a word about it. They don’t even laugh at me.

I really don’t understand it, my voice. It’s like I was born from a family of hummingbirds, meeping and chirping away, unable to get it just right. I played in bands and orchestras for almost twenty years, so how come I just can’t seem to sing beautifully? It’s a puzzle. And over time, I’ve finally decided this:

I can’t care.

I can’t care anymore if I don’t sing well, because usually it is God I am singing to. He listens. And God doesn’t make mistakes. For some reason, He made my voice my own curious little thing to the ears on earth. But to Him, I imagine He loves my voice. How could He not? He loves yours, too.

Psalm 139:13-14 says “For You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” And then it goes on to say in verse 17, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!”.

Marvelous and precious. That’s what we are to the Lord. I’d reckon our voices are not excluded in that. No matter what they sound like. He formed us just as we are. So, let’s come to Him in song just as we are. Wherever we are. His opinion is all that matters anyway. I’ve decided that, as Martina McBride’s song celebrates, I’ll just sing Anyway. (I love watching this video of a woman signing the lyrics of that Anyway song.)

Each of us has our own unique individual voice. Voices that are lovely to the One who designed them to be so. Let’s be unabashed with our outpouring of joy. Let’s allow ourselves comfort in sorrow with song, if that’s what suits us. It would be tragic to deny ourselves this thing just for the sake of worrying what others think.

So that’s why I’m just not going to mind anymore if no one likes my voice. It will take courage, yes. I’ll likely have to shut my eyes sometimes as I sing to block everyone out; I may have to take deep breaths to bolster my heart. But the feeling of singing, for me, is such a happy feeling and brings such solace that it’s worth the risk of being out of harmony with others. At least in this small thing.

“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;

Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.”

-Psalm 98:4

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