FRAGMENTS

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.” ~ Anais Nin

The Practice of Setting Forth Your Intention

Intention

intention |inˈten(t)SH(ə)nnouna thing intended; an aim or plan: she was full of good intentions | [ with infinitive ]  

At the beginning of each yoga class, the instructor has the students put their hands to heart center and set their intention for the class. The first few months that I went to yoga this annoyed me. I felt like saying, “My intention is to do this yoga class, isn’t that obvious?” But as time went by I started to say things like, “I want to stay present during this class.” Or “I want to work on my standing practice today.” Or, “I want to create space for my grief to rise up and spill over.” Or, “I want to take breaks whenever I’m tired and practice resting.” I discovered that intention provides a focus and a necessary structure.

The spiritual life has a seasonal pattern to it, an ebb and flow, a cyclical feel. At least my spiritual life does. I’ll have seasons where God feels near and it’s joy joy joy and other times when the spiritual life tastes like dry toast. I’ve learned not to panic. But I’ve also learned the importance of setting forth my intention in each season. 

During one season in my life, I felt like there was a lot of teaching about what I was supposed to do for God and it was starting to feel like a weight around my neck. So, I decided to turn my heart toward grace and ask God to show me how to find mercy.

Once, I heard God whisper he wanted to show me how much he loves me. I wrote it down in my journal and decided to pay attention to that word. Over the next several months one provisional miracle happened after another. Skeptics might say those things would have happened even if I hadn’t written that promise down in my journal. True. Indeed. But I did write it down and my heart was open to God’s revelation of love in my life.

There was a time when I felt like I no longer knew who Jesus was. There was all this jabbering noise about him. People in politics would bring him up, I’d hear people use his name for every thing from how Jesus would have cooked to how Jesus would have voted in a politics. He was like this nebulous iconic entity, someone from folk religion or something … I decided to read the four gospels over and over until he didn’t feel iconic to me any more. I read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Over and over and over again — my entire life got drenched with the words and scandalous ways of Jesus. 

During a particularly hard time in Chile, all I did was read the Psalms and cry. And I begged God to help me. I suffered from insomnia, I was terrified all the time, I felt haunted. My prayer, my primary intention was to survive. I felt tempted to walk away from any kind of spiritual life but instead, I decided to get quiet and just ask for help. Help came – over time. The winter passed, the sun came out again, and I made a couple of friends who were nice to me and somehow they seemed like God’s hands of love.

Maybe you are in a particularly busy season and you don’t have time for any kind of spiritual practice. Setting forth your intention could be as simple finding creative ways to talk to God throughout the day, to wake up ready to see God’s grace in your busy schedule, and notice the ways he brings relief. To pay attention.

Maybe you are fighting for your life with an illness. I have a few friends with cancer and they are fighting to breathe. Setting forth your intention might be to choose to rest in God’s goodness and love and let other people have faith on your behalf. To let community be your spiritual practice. 

What I’ve realized over the years is that walking with God is a whole lot like any other practice. It doesn’t just happen by osmosis. We have to get engaged in our spiritual lives. And if we have a setting forth of intention — it becomes easier. It provides focus. When I say, “I want to focus on my relationship with God right now,” what does that mean?

But if I say, “I’m going to pray The Lord’s Prayer every day for a month at the same time, and think about each sentence,” I have something that will provide structure.

A little bit of focus goes a long way. Be kind to yourself. God is on your side. This isn’t about striving to please him, it’s certainly not about proving yourself to him so he’ll answer your prayers, or about being good enough for God to show up and do miracles. All it is, is an inward shift that will have an outward action. I am a spiritual being … I want to be intentional about my spiritual life. We exercise for the same reason — because we are physical beings, we do exercise for our bodies. We set our intention…. “Okay, I’m going to ride my bike four times a week.” And then we follow through…

The spiritual life is the same.

The other day I was on a long walk with a good friend. She’s older than me and a ton wiser. We talked about regrets and life and our kids etc … and she said. “I have a problem taking responsibility.” This made me laugh. She’s one of the most responsible women I know. But she explained it to me. She doesn’t like taking responsibility for her own life, or her dreams, or hopes … I. Can. Relate. It’s scary to take responsibility for our own lives and dreams and hopes. If it all falls apart, who do else do we have to blame?

But, taking responsibility (responding to your ability) for who you want to be and where you want to go is the beginning, the starting place of a rich and fulfilling life. It may also be the beginning of a wee bit of conflict with the people around you.

I said fulfilling, not easy.

Setting forth your intention … What is it you want to be about?

(P.S. If you liked this post, would you please share it with your friends.)

 

I Changed My Name – Reflections on Identity and Family

Today, I went onto my Facebook site and changed my name. Tina Osterhouse. It’s the name I had all my life, the name I was born with, my dad’s name, my family name.

I was proud to be Tina Bustamante for sixteen years and will always feel a deep love and admiration, and a certain affinity with my children’s last name. When I was a young woman starting out life as an adult, it was, for me, a great honor to take on another man’s name and merge my life together into his. I wanted to give up my family name in order to take on a new name – a new life. I saw it as part of what we women do. We give up part of who we are in order to become something together.

I’ve been thinking about changing my name back to Osterhouse for some time now. In Chile, women don’t take their husband’s surnames, and the children end up having two last names. It works. At first, when I moved there, something seemed wrong with the tradition, but as time went by, I realized there was also something satisfying in it, of both the man and woman keeping their identity, and still finding a way to merge into one. Marriage is mysterious. It’s not because of a name that a man and woman somehow, over time become one flesh. It’s a thousand other things, most of which no one else in all the world sees. It’s private and sacred, and therefore, devastating when the marriage is torn asunder.

This last season has been a time of rebuilding for me, of reflecting, of looking at the past with a straightforward honesty, and trying to make sense of things. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand it all. That’s impossible. But I do understand that I spent a great deal of my grown up life running away from a past that felt broken to me. My parents divorced when I was young. My mom remarried. I absolutely love her husband and all his sons now, but it’s taken me years to get there. My dad is still single. He’s had some romances over the years, but opted for a single life. There is so much in my family history that felt difficult to reconcile, full of aches and loss and pain. So, for years, I ran away from what felt like utter devastation. My family legacy seemed like nothing but ruins, and so I was eager, if not desperate, to change my name and make myself someone new. 

I was small-minded …  

Over the last several months, I’ve had rich and meaningful conversations with both my parents, with my sisters, and with my step-brothers and their wives. They’ve offered me counsel, gentle suggestions, thoughts and an endless supply of tissues and moral support, but more than anything they’ve all simply sat with me and let me live out this season with as much honesty as I’ve had the courage to muster. On Thanksgiving, I talked with my step-brothers and their wives and told them a sliver of what was going on. I confessed how worried I was about my children, told them I was losing good friendships over all this, that I was about as low as I ever imagined being. Each of them, gently, with such tenderness, reassured me that I was not alone and this was not the end of my story. They were with me.

My younger sister flew home with her entire family to be with me at Christmas, so I wouldn’t be alone. They spent an absolute fortune on plane tickets because she knew I needed her. That gift was the gift of true love. My older sister writes me texts from time to time to let me know she’s got my back. She’s with me. My mom nods her head and lovingly extends her life to me as a testimony, a legacy if you will, not of perfection, but of love. My dad shows up at every game Lucas plays and cheers him on, ever present. He takes Emma to the barn and gives her riding lesson after lesson, pouring his horse knowledge into her. My list could go on.

What I’m realizing, is that what I thought was a legacy of devastation was actually a rich heritage of strength, a foundation laid for me of forgiveness and second starts, an example of what it means to honestly look at our lives and lean into the horror instead of running away from it, or shoving it under the rug in destructive patterns of denial. No one in my family is too arrogant to say they’ve messed up. No one in my family is too proud to say they’re sorry and they’ll try to do better next time. …

This is the stuff I want to rebuild my life on. The good fruit that comes from humility and suffering, the beautiful character that is formed from rubble and heartache, from disappointment and overwhelming loss.

My family is so terribly human. We’ve got it all: alcoholism, divorce, remarriage, sexual identity stuff. We’ve got drug addiction, death, great sorrow, overwhelming regret and disappointments – and yet, here we are. I’m a fragile, struggling mother … but I come from good bones, from strong and mighty hearts, from a people who continue on and choose to seek God, who find his grace sufficient in their day of trouble and lean into the relationships right in front of them, the ones with their children and grandchildren and step-grandchildren and love them just as they are.

My family is a family who says to people all over the world … there is room for you here. You have not gone too far, you are not too broken to be loved, and you are not too devastated to discover that grace is a gentle and healing balm.

 

 

The Practices of my Faith Series

imagesI’ve been insatiably interested in God since I was small a kid. I used to invite Jesus into my heart on a near daily basis, with great pomp and dramatic contrition whilst sitting on the toilet, children’s Holy Bible in hand, and skinny chicken-legs dangling. I’d pray the most dramatic prayers begging for salvation. I’ve been talking to God ever since, not necessarily on the toilet, and certainly sans dangling skinny legs, but I’ve honestly been fascinated with the spiritual life for as long as I can remember.

My spiritual journey is laden with a passionate searching, painful failure, and far too much swearing. I told my family at Christmas I think God wants me to stop swearing so often, and my mother, who never even says damn, sighed in relief and uttered toward heaven, “Oh, thank God.” I thought that was really endearing. My spiritual journey is also filled with a deep abiding love for God. A love that has guided me through seasons of doubt where I wondered if this Jesus stuff was any more than a fairy tale. I’ve had glorious moments riding the heights of answered prayers, and I’ve muddled through the mundane and ordinary seasons of washing dishes and mowing the lawn. And I’ve had times where I begged God to make a way through thick barriers that felt like blackberry bushes, and terrain so steep I feared I’d fall backwards to an impending death.

When I was sixteen, I had a reckoning where I kneeled down at a park in the early morning and promised to follow God, no-holds-barred. Somehow, I knew that by living in relationship with God, I’d find a kind of love that nothing else in all the world would hold a candle to. So, I’ve stayed. Even when I’m mad at God, bewildered, confused and screaming, I wrestle it out with him. I’ve found that even on the worst days and during the darkest seasons of anger and fear, I’d rather be in relationship with him, than not. I like God’s company.

Over the years, on my hunt for the Divine, I’ve discovered ways, things I can do that help me feel closer, more at peace with God. None of my practices of faith are new, but they’re mine, and they’ve yielded results: renewed faith, courage to tell the truth, a new patience, perseverance, love and forbearance where previously there had been spite and deep-seeded desires for vengeance, and a general sense of well-being coupled with the strength to be generous with my heart when I’ve wanted to let it shrivel up and die. So, I’ve concluded that anything I can do to approach the spiritual life with fresh eyes is helpful. When I put my heart in a place where God can reach it and speak to me, life blooms.

There’s this verse in the Bible, in the book of James, that says if we draw near to God, God will draw near to us. This verse reminds me of life on the school playground. I’ll be your best friend, if you’ll be mine. We’re aching to feel less alone, but we don’t want to reach out to someone if they’re going to reject us, so we extend ourselves with the infamous … if. I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine. I’ll jump if you go first.

What I love about this verse in James is how much God gets it. God knows it’s hard for us to reach out of ourselves and go on the hunt for something unseen that can’t be measured by anything temporal. God recognizes that it’s scary for us little humans to search for the eternal. And so there’s this promise that assures us – If you reach out, God will reach in. If you seek God, you will find God. That said, God is mystery. He doesn’t show up on our time-table or in our small-minded, altruistic-three-point-expected-outcome ways … God is much more wild and unmanageable than that. But … if we search and seek with a true longing to know, we’ll find what our souls are searching for … 

While, a life of faith is tenderly private and personal, it’s also communal. We’re in this together. And because we’re in this together, I’ve decided to write about my practices of faith. The things I do that help me in my relationship with God. When I read about other people’s lives with God it helps me. Sometimes it helps me feel less alone, or more understood. Sometimes it names something I haven’t known how to label, and sometimes it challenges me to step into something new and take a risk.

I would love if you’d join me on this series! I love to hear people’s stories and what they’re learning about God and the spiritual life.

One small request: If there’s a blog post you like, or one you think is particularly helpful, would you please share it on some form of social media, be it Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or some other new thing I’m clueless about? I’m a writer trying to build my platform and word of mouth is the most helpful.

I’m really looking forward to this blog series!

Peace,

Tina

 

 

Random Bits and Pieces

Lindsey Mead of A Design So Vast does a piece each month she titles, Things I Love Lately. I look forward to these posts because I get book ideas and articles to read, she promotes people’s blogs from time to time, shares what her kids are reading. It’s so helpful and fun to be part of the community.

I started to do something similar a long time ago. I’ve been meaning to do another and then I don’t. But because I’ve just had spring break and had so much time to read some great things, I decided to share some of my own Random Bits and Pieces … Things I love … and think you might too.

Several months ago, my friend Myles suggested I read a book by Alexandra Fuller. She is a white Southern African who grew up in Zimbabwe and Zambia. I finally got around to it this last week and was mesmerized, and stunned by his recommendation. The entire book overwhelmed me. I loved it. I am just plain in love with her writing. Leaving Before the Rain Comes is daring and full of insight. It’s the story one woman’s decision to walk out of her marriage and how she makes peace with her life.

“The truth is, I wasn’t only not a good daughter of Africa, I was not a good daughter of anywhere, nor was I a good wife, nor a good mother. I was a woman on the brink of free fall, and it was hard to be a good, acceptable woman in any language or in any place when simultaneously contemplating coming undone. For the first time, I was beginning to see that for a woman to speak her mind in any clear, unassailable way, unapologetic way, she must first possess it.” (211) 

She also wrote Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, which I’m reading right now. There’s this hopeful willingness to embrace the radical, intermingled sorrow and joy of our lives in her writing. I can’t recommend her enough.

I came across Grounded by Diana Butler Bass several months ago and started to read it slowly, savoring its depth and insight. Diana Butler Bass loves God and works hard to make God accessible. She suggests that although Christianity is on the decline in America, the world is shifting and hungry for the sacred in every day life all around us. Diana Butler Bass contends, along with Paul Tillich, that God is the Ground of all Being … he can be found in the world around us, and we can gain spiritual ground through the God who resides in the world with us – not far away and far of.

I am also reading The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson. It’s difficult to get through all the essays, as they’re dense and really smart, but they’re thought-provoking and insightful!.

A few months ago, I came across an essay that Joan Didion wrote in the Vogue magazine in 1961. It’s titled Self-Respect: Its Source its Power. This short essay is packed with insight. I remember years ago I asked my friend Lupe about the nature of women and abuse and why a certain couple of women didn’t want to leave their husbands, despite horrible domestic violence.

I railed against the situation and said, “They have the power to leave!”

She shrugged. “The don’t have internal power.”

I have never forgotten those words, ever. It took me a long time to realize that internal power is a high commodity and comes at a high price. I think Joan Didion’s essay touches on the source of internal power. “To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of other love or indifference.”  

I adore this You-Tube video, called You Make Me Brave. I watched it over and over a few weeks ago. I’m excited there’s this trend right now that seems to be calling us to be a people who are brave and bold, instead of obligated and duty bound. It’s not so much about finding ourselves, but about finding God. On the road to discovering God, you will inevitably come to know your truth self. But God does not call us to tiny, atrophied, fearful lives of rules and lists. The life of faith, in particular the Christian faith, is one of courage and adventure. It’s important to hold onto that.  

Finally, on Sunday my friend Andrea did a photo-shoot for me and the kids. It was wonderful. Andrea Laurita photography is outstanding. The grace and ease in which she worked with me and my kids was exceptional. My kids settled into her gentle way of leading them like little sheep. It was so fun.

On the Crucial Difference Between Ease and Rest

spring-season-3-wallpapers-1600x1200

I’m in the middle of waiting for a bunch of different things. It drives me crazy. I’m waiting on an agent who is reading my most recent novel. It’s the longest, most risky thing I’ve ever done. I feel committed to the process, but the waiting is such a challenge. Will he want to represent my work, or pass on it? And then what will I do?

I have another novel I’m pulling out of one publisher’s hands and moving to another publisher. This takes time.

I’m living with good friends, but need to make some long-term decisions about the future. I’m also trying to decide where to go to church and am in the middle of making a decision about that.

All these decisions and changes are starting to take their toll on my energy level and I feel exhausted.

In yoga the other day, while moving from one pose to another, I paused in my practice and told God, “I just want things to be easy for once.”

The response came almost immediately, startling so. “There’s a difference between a life of ease, and a life lived out in my rest.” 

In the dictionary ease and rest have very similar definitions. They’re almost identical. And yet, they’re different. If one reads the Bible, they’ll come across different passages throughout all the stories of scripture about rest. In the Old Testament God asks his people to take one day off and rest every week. And then in the New Testament, we are told that Jesus himself is our rest. There’s some mystery in all of this.

There’s this passage in Matthew eleven that I have long appreciated. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Perhaps this is what God meant while I was sweating it out on my yoga mat, bemoaning the frustrations of having to live in a season of transition and waiting. His yoke is easy and his burden is light — He’s on my side. He loves me. He watches when a sparrow falls, he’s certainly going to be with me through it all. He doesn’t demand perfection. He remembers that I’m made of dust. And God takes my small life offered to him and blesses it. God brings meaning and significance to my life, not because it’s spotless or blameless, but because I’ve come to him and asked him to.

The tricky thing is figuring out how to take on the ways of Jesus and learn to live a life of rest. How do we become gentle people who are carefree in the great care of God? 

I think trust has something to do with all of this. If you’ve lived any sort of life on this planet you’ll know things never turn out the way you expect them to. We put our lives in God’s hands and then everything seems to implode. We take a risk and lose our money, the house burns down, people get sick or their backs go out and they can’t walk and live in chronic pain, good people you trust turn on you when you need them, or the medical insurance refuses to pay for your medical bills and you’re forced to pay for your illness with retirement money and you have no idea if you’ll ever get to stop working. You thought God led you to buy a house and then you lose your job and can’t pay for it and are forced to foreclose. These things happen all the time. Or you raised your children in the church and did everything Dr. Dobson told you to do, and not a single one of them wants anything to do with the faith you hold so dearly. What the heck, God? 

So, we go to church and hear good sermons about the three things we need to do in order for our lives to get better — and we do them, because let’s face it, there are times when we’d do about anything to figure out how to get God’s attention. And things improve for a season. So we praise God. And then things fall apart, again.

What in the world is Jesus talking about? 

He’s trying to tell us there’s a difference between a life of ease and a life lived out in his rest. This world is a hard and difficult place and we have far less control than I’m comfortable with. The rug will get pulled out from under us. People will hurt us. Things will fall apart.

And in the middle of it all … there’s this promise … “and lo I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.”

His presence is our rest.

His gentle way of holding up the weak is what will sustain us through our trials. 

He lifts up the humble, he heals the broken-hearted, and he binds up the wounded … 

He comes when he’s invited. His presence is transformational. He brings a kind of soul rest that makes the unbearable bearable. He helps the weary, and he brings life, for He is Life …

 

What We Need is Here. Today.

flock of migrating canada geese birds flying at sunset

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
Wendell Berry

There are endless things in this world that seem consistent and certain to me, such as the coming of spring, the turning of the tide, or the assurance that the  sun will rise tomorrow as surely as it will set tonight.

Other things seem so ever changing and daunting. A friends gets cancer, there are the ever plaguing job insecurities we all face, or the surprising nature of relationships: you think you know someone almost as well as you know yourself, and for whatever reason, you discover the true nature of your friendship and the ground shifts, the place you thought you stood on so securely now seems unstable. It’s frightening.

For years now I’ve found great comfort in praying through The Lord’s Prayer.  I meditate and chew through each line, savoring the structure and the wholeness contained in it. I remember a time when I was worried about something – probably money, something to do with provision and the fear of scarcity, the overwhelming terror there would not be enough for me, that I would be left out. As I moved through the prayer to Give us this day, our daily bread …. I had this moment of overwhelming clarity: God has what I need. God has wisdom and grace, kindness and creativity, love and power, strength and self-control, truth and mercy in abundance. Always. He is outside of time. His reservoir never runs dry. And God steps into time and meets us right where we are without reservation. We can abandon our lives into his good care. Today.

However, in order to receive we must quiet our hearts and minds and still the clamor surrounding us in order to see and recognize God’s counter-intuitive ways. His ways are higher. His knowledge is unfathomable. His love is endless. Surely, if God cares for the sparrow and see when it falls, God has more than enough for me. What I need is here. Today.

Grant me the serenity to see your provision, the courage to receive from your hand, and the wisdom to move into the sacred promises of this ancient faith. Today.

Good Friday and the Reason Why I Am a Christian

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It seems fitting to write something about the death of Jesus on this Good Friday.

Two thousand years ago a man from Palestine hit the scene in the Roman Empire and made a mark unlike anything humanity has encountered before or since. Today is the day we remember that he was crucified in a terrible death. His friend, Judas, betrayed him, and after a grueling trial, he carried his own cross down the streets of Jerusalem and was nailed onto that cross and died a criminal’s death.

In the three years that Jesus worked in public ministry, the most unlikely people came around him. One woman who was mentally tortured, haunted and persecuted by unseen spirits, regained her sanity when he prayed for her. Another man who lived in caves and cut himself at night, screaming and crying in the catacombs, unexpectedly came across Jesus at the edge of the sea. Jesus spoke a few words to him and restored the crazy man to sanity. To himself.

I’ve been hearing about Jesus now for most of my thirty-eight years of life. I chose to follow him when I was sixteen years old. It was on bended knee after a terrible night of drunken stupidity. I realized that while he may not be the easiest one to imitate, he might be the most honorable and for me, he was the one I was most attracted to. It was an intentional decision to turn the rudder of my life in a completely different direction. I’ve loved him ever since.

Each time I read the biographies about the life and death and miraculous resurrection of Jesus, I’m astonished again at a few things. First, I’m surprised at his kindness. He was a gentle man, who was gracious to little old ladies and lovingly honest to short, mean tax collectors. He was kind to women of every class, even the prostitutes, and he was considerate of children. He saw whomever was in front of him and extended a sort of honor to them that ultimately changed people’s lives. People long to be seen and heard, to know their lives have significance and weight in the grand scheme of things, and finally someone had came along who understood this.

I’m also always astonished anew at his power. He turned water into wine. He touched lepers and they were healed. He prayed over bread and fish and they multiplied. One old widow lost her only son and during the burial procession, Jesus reached over and brought the kid back to life. Just for her. He calmed storms, reduced fevers, made lame men walk, restored sight to beggars, and touched little girls and brought them back to life. He healed people. Inside and out.

I’m always significantly overwhelmed by how grounded Jesus was. He knew exactly what he was doing and for whom he was doing it. On the night he was betrayed they brought him before Pontius Pilate, a Roman procurator. He had the power to release Jesus or send him to his execution. Jesus, knowing full well the man would send him to his death, assured Pilate that he was not the one in command. There was One more powerful than Pilate and it was to Him Jesus rendered his allegiance. This baffled Pilate immensely. So much so that when he turned him over to be crucified, he washed his hands of him and said he wanted no dealings with him. His wife even had a bad dream about him.

Jesus was then scourged and crucified. Brutally. That happened on a Friday.

The multiple accounts we have of these events say that on Sunday morning, Jesus came back to life. His friend Mary, the one who had been mentally tortured by spirits, saw him in the garden near his tomb. Others saw him on the road to Emmaus, walking out of town. And then later, his friends saw him in an upper room. They touched his side, his nail pierced hands, and recognized his physical presence. He was unmistakable.

Now, among his followers He’s called the firstborn of all creation. The one who lives. The Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end …  For He conquered death and holds the keys to life.

I’ve called Jesus many things. I’ve called him Lord. I’ve called him Friend. I’ve called him Frustrating and Baffling. I’ve called him Mysterious. Mainly, for most of my life now, I’ve found different ways to kneel afresh and simply call him mine. It’s not because some church taught me to follow Jesus, or because I heard a great speaker on television preach about him. Nor is it because by following him things have miraculously gotten easier. There’s a cost to following Jesus. No, it’s something different…

Earlier this week, terrorists attacked Brussels and left the world screaming in rage and fear. People are afraid.

Currently, the United States is in the middle of a presidential campaign. One of the scariest campaigns I’ve lived through yet. We have one person in particular running for president who has no right to lead this country. He has fame and fortune, charisma and a public persona and because he deems himself worthy, we’ve given him a platform. He’s making a mockery of what it means to be a leader.

This world has seen a great many leaders come and go. They rise and fall. We’ve watched presidential candidates come onto the stage. We’ve seen evil people trick the masses into following them with horrible and devastating consequences. We’ve seen beautiful men and women create followings and then eventually die off …

I am a Christian because no matter where I go, and I’ve walked this earth a bit, there’s no one – not one single person – who holds a candle to Jesus Christ. I have found him sufficient. He is the one in whom my soul has found its rest. I seek no other. 

 

 

On Why Change is Difficult But Matters So Much

imagesYears ago, I took a trip to Morocco and managed to spend a couple of days in the company of some bright and beautiful Muslim women. One evening we sat around a dining room table and talked about our different faiths. We spoke in Spanish, broken French, and translated Arabic. To this day, it was one of the most meaningful conversations of my life. Toward the end, one of the young women got frustrated and voiced a desire to quit talking about such things. “Why do we need to talk about our faith? At the end of it all, you will be Christian and I will be Muslim. Nothing will change.”

Her words struck a deep chord in me. I rose in protest and exclaimed that change is always possible. If we choose it, with respect and care, with courage and insight, change is possible. Things don’t have to stay the same.

On Friday, I sat with a despairing mother. Her child refuses to do his homework, which is causing conflict in the house and the mom doesn’t know what to do. We spent almost an hour brainstorming ways that she could, if she desired, change her family dynamic and bring about a cultural change in her home. The problem stems from the fact that she does everything in her house. Her children don’t help her with anything. Unfortunately, the patterns we learn at home bleed into other areas of our lives. If he’s never had to do any chores at home, why should he start doing homework, now?

This mother and I decided to start with a few baby steps to push her child onto a path toward a more independent life. She wants him to be capable of more than playing video games every afternoon and she’s realized it’s going to take energy on her part to bring about this change. She has to stop doing everything for him, which will inevitably require him to do more for himself. This is a difficult change for her.

I am in the middle of profound change. I’ve been in the middle of change for quite some time. There have been moments when great leaps were required of me. Usually, what seemed like a surprise to outsiders, wasn’t really all that surprising because underneath the surface, plates were moving, adjusting, preparing me for the great alterations I needed to make. At those junction points in my life, I have used every ounce of creative energy I possessed in order to get to the other side. I needed focus and fortitude, a strength of will that refused to relent, and I needed a vision for the other side.

Without vision the people perish … 

When we lack vision, we will inevitably lack courage. A good vision begets courage. If you can see where you want to go and believe it’s possible, courage will come. Start with the vision.

When we believe lies about ourselves, about other people, or about the way things are supposed to be, our vision becomes delusional, and over time, we are left with great regret and overwhelming disappointment.

Disappointment usually has to do with the aftereffect of making decisions based on what we wished was true instead of the actual truth. Then we’re stuck with the aftermath of our own unwillingness or inability to be honest with ourselves.  

Here is the difficulty … Most people don’t want change. They want things to stay the way they are. Even if they’re a cute little frog sitting in a pot on the stove about ready to get cooked. They like the way things are because it’s what they know. Change messes up the balance of things. It messes up the equilibrium of societies, of churches, of homes … Even if things are wrong, people don’t want change, especially if they’re in a powerful position and the requested change will subsequently shift the power structure.

People usually choose change when they get tired enough of the way things are and can no longer stand to stay in their current circumstances.

If you are a change agent, if you are a courageous individual who has chosen to change the dynamic of your personal life, or your home, or your school, your religious institution, or even of your society …

Remember two important things …

Eventually, people adjust to a new normal. Over time, they get used to it. Women vote now in most countries of the world. And we consider it normal. It took decades for women to gain the right to vote. Many people opposed it, fought it, pushed the idea down, and yet women go to the polls all the time and cast their vote for the candidate of their own choosing. This is a remarkable change.

Secondly, in the process of adjustment they will kick and scream and wail and shake their heads all the way through. They will attempt to make you feel guilty for creating upheaval, for asking this of them. They will get angry if you expect them to make room for new things, for new structures, for new voices, for new traditions … Even if those things are good. Some will try to silence and shame you into conformity.

Your task as change agent, as the one forging a new way, is to … Hold. The. Line. Do not let go of your vision. Stand your ground. Over time, you will look back and realize you were part of something true. And it was much more important than you ever imagined.

 

On Letting Go of Fear in order to Grapple Forward

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The first time I fell off a horse was when I was about seven years old. My dad is a horse trainer and I used go out to the stables where he worked. I’d climb up with him and yell, “Faster, Dad. Faster!” He’d laugh and ask the horse for more speed.

There was one horse I could ride all by myself, on my dad’s big saddle, with  my chicken legs dangling. I’d walk around the arena like Miss America. Until one day, the horse spooked coming around the corner and I flew off him like a torpedo and landed with a thud right on my face. I bit my lip, which made it all the more dramatic, and had dirt in my hair, down my pants, and in my shirt. It was awful. It scared me beyond any fear I’d known up to that point and my tiny little self trembled and cried. Both my parents comforted me, patched up my bloody lip, and soothed me, blaming themselves. It wasn’t their fault, though. If you’re going to ride horses, you’ll fall off at one point or another. It’s part of the package.

I stopped riding after that. For years. My dad would invite me to go to the stables with him and I’d decline.

Years later, on a whim, I got on a horse. My aunt promised he’d be gentle and that I was safe, so I decided to be brave. The horse loped off. The wind lifted my hair, and my body remembered the ease and joy of being on horseback and something shifted inside me.

The sad thing is I lost a lot of time because I was so afraid. I missed out on years of it as a kid because I didn’t want to fall off again. And when we cultivate fear long enough, eventually it becomes part of our personality.

“How come Tina doesn’t ride horses?”

“Oh, it’s just not her thing.”

But it was my thing. Or… it could have been my thing if I hadn’t been so afraid.  

This morning, Lucas and I sat in my bathroom and discussed the nature of fear. He’s afraid of something and his fear is valid. He has an honest reason to be afraid. But it’s hindering him from doing what he really loves. So I told him the story of how I fell off the horse. I held out both my hands and said, “On one side, I had this very real fear of falling off the horse. I fell hard and it terrified me to fall off again.”

He glanced at my other hand, wanting to know what was on the other side. “But the problem was,” I told him. “I loved to ride. There’s nothing as wonderful as feeling the wind in my face and the thunder of horse hooves underneath me, and the overwhelming sensation of full speed.”

His big brown eyes welled up with tears, feeling the painful tension of holding onto his fear, aching for safety, but also wanting to take that big risk and do what he loves …

We can’t nurse our fears and become who we are meant to be.

We can’t embrace our insecurities and simultaneously do the things that bring us to life.

We can’t be courageous and also lie to ourselves about our deep heart truths.

We can’t fly if we’re crouched in the corner.

However, it’s also true that we don’t have to do it all at once in order to conquer our fears.

We can take small steps in the right direction.

We can whisper to God what we really want and believe He hears us and takes us seriously.

We can choose to believe our voice matters as much as everyone else’s and look for opportunities to speak up.

We can ask someone to read something we’ve written, or submit a favorite article to a magazine. We can save our money and buy a plane ticket to go to that distant land we’ve always dreamed of going to … We can make that phone call and apologize for something we did that hurt someone. We can ask a boy out on a date, or ask that girl what her number is … We can forgive the one we swore up and down we’d never forgive and finally begin to release the anger that’s holding us so tight. We can call a counselor and ask for help … We can confess a secret we’re afraid will break us … and believe that light is more powerful than darkness.

We can choose life and grapple forward …We can choose change one step at at time.

But, you ask, what if we fall of the horse, and dirt gets everywhere, and we make fools of ourselves?

Oh friend … You will fall off the horse. You will get dirty. You’ll bite your lip and taste your own blood. Your heart will race. The wind will get knocked out of you and you’ll lose your breath. And then … because you are strong and fierce, because you love life and were born to breathe fresh air and laugh at the days to come … You’ll get back on… and run.

 

 

On Mean Girls and Inclusion

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It was brought to my attention over the last couple of weeks that my daughter has been encountering the infamous academic caste system we all love so much. Exclusion from, or inclusion into a small group of people. The criteria for “getting” into these cliques is absolutely subjective – based on looks, clothing, boys who like you, the right talent, and other various factors. She’s been hanging in the balance of social status, wondering if by some chance, the gods of popularity will grant her aid and lift the veil of approval, granting her entry.

I want to tear my hair out. Or scream from the rafters.

These things are nothing new. Cliques and groups and popularity are as old as time, or at least as old as three women in a squabble. There’s always a tendency for the third wheel syndrome when you put more than two girls together. And in sixth grade, girls still haven’t learned how much we need each other. Truth is, if we don’t belong to each other, who in the world do we belong to? We can’t afford to exclude one another. Life it too hard. We need to stick together. 

The same thing happened to me in the sixth grade and again in the seventh grade. And the same thing has happened at various points of my grown-up life. I learned early on that takers take but real friends love back. Sometimes it’s hard to find real friends. But they’re out there. Maybe they’re hiding in the corners, skittish from too many hits, but if you keep your eyes out, and your heart open, you’ll find your kindred spirits, fellow sojourners on the way …

When it’s your daughter, it makes it so much harder. There’s very little a mom can do when these inevitable things happen to our kids. We can’t legislate kindness or morality. We can’t mandate love. Love and kindness come from the heart and the heart is the most private place in a person. But when we hold out our hearts, even at the risk of being hurt, we open ourselves up to life and love and eventually to hope. After all, hope springs eternal.

As a mama, I may not be able to kiss it and make this all go away, but I can bring my child close and whisper in her ear, “You belong with me. And you come from a long line of strong and courageous women who’ve held their own all over the world.”

I tell my daughter …  that her ultimate reality is not the 6th grade. The sum of her totality is not the acceptance or lack thereof of a few friends. The sum of her parts are deep and wide. Her value will never be determined by a few friends who have known her for a handful of months. She is adored and loved by aunts and uncles, by grandparents and cousins and by people from all over the globe. She has a great host of fans and supporters who think she’s amazing and love her just because she was born.

I tell my daughter… over and over that life is not about belonging to a particular clique of peers who deem you acceptable and therefore worthy of their friendship. Life is about becoming a friend and discovering companions along the way who touch our hearts and who see us for who we are, who make us feel less alone. Life is about generous love instead of meager taking. When our hearts ache for acceptance, if we make an effort to give acceptance to someone else, when we stretch out our hand instead of holding clenched fists, our loneliness ebbs out as with the tide.

I tell I my daughter… that she’s part of a great big tribe: A tribe of women who have gone before her, women she’s related to, women I’m friends with, women who surround her and who affirm her. She’s not alone. She belongs with us. We are women, strong and resilient. We are beautiful. And we include.