“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?“
Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)
I have heard a lot of painful stories in the past week and as much as I want people I love to not be hurting…there is nothing I can do to take it away. So I just sit with them in spirit.
I have no evidence or academic understanding for what I’m about to say, it is purely observational, so please take it for what it’s worth. But after walking through this past year I am convinced that the depth we allow our hearts to plunge into the pain and sorrow of life we have the same depth and capacity to experience joy. Meaning if you really face the full force of the emotions as they are swirling around you…no escaping…no numbing…maybe curling up in the fetal position and praying for the day that life does not hurt this much…but standing face into the wind waiting for the storm to subside. Eventually it will and when the storm does calm and the sun does rise you will have the capacity to experience joy to the same depth you felt the pain. Your emotional bandwidth increases (Just in case you forgot I’m an engineer. )
But this is the place where people can make a mis step. Facing and experiencing the pain is scary and it hurts…both physical and emotional. Most people don’t like it and would rather avoid it…this is the birthplace of addictions and unhealthy ways of coping. Because if you choose to numb the pain I am convinced you also numb the joy…and then ultimately just become numb. Your emotional bandwidth decreases.
I have a bit of a visual picture for this. Imagine standing alone in a field. Just you amongst the grass. There are no trees for protection. It is flat. A storm kicks up. It’s wicked. Crazy winds. Rain blowing sideways. And you fight with all your might to keep from being blown away. You aren’t sure how long it will last or whether you can keep up the fight…but somehow you manage. You dig deep and eventually…eventually the wind calms and the rain stops. You aren’t fighting as hard to keep upright and slowly the sun begins to rise. It’s the most beautiful sight not only because of the rays between the clouds and the rainbow of colors but because you know how bad it could be. Man, are you excited to be in the sun!! You close your eyes, take a deep breath and let it warm your face…soaking it in.
Now imagine you are back at the beginning of this little story…alone in the field. But this time when the storm kicks up you build a shelter to protect you from the wind and the rain. It makes it a lot easier to live through the storm without being blasted and soaked…you don’t have to fight as hard to survive. But when you’re in the shelter you can’t tell when the storm calms and the sun is rising. You wont see the beauty after the storm…you are just stuck with the 4 blank walls inside. Sure, you weathered the storm alright but you just traded that for the sunrise and warming rays on your face.
I, for one, would rather face my storms to then feel the sun on my face.
These are just my Wednesday evening musings. Take them for what they are worth.
As we rolled into a new year I read several other bloggers claim a word that they want to represent 2013. I know that I’m about a month late but I’m putting my 2013 word out there…LIVE. Not to be mistaken with the 90′s rock band famous for “Lightning Crashes”. Like in “to live abundantly”. I chose a verb for my year because I want to remind myself that life is really just a series of choices stacked together that turn into days…days that turn into weeks…weeks that turn into months…months that turn into years…years that turn into decades (hopefully). But it can be broken down into intentional choices.
After I finished my cancer treatment it was easy for me to get trapped in the mindset of “waiting”. Waiting to see if the cancer comes back. Waiting for the side effects to go away. Waiting for things to change. Waiting feels passive. Living is active. Making choices to be the person God created me to be is “living abundantly”. So here are a few things that I will choose to shape my 2013:
- Waking up every morning and taking a moment to breathe deep and be thankful for a new day and new mercies
- Filling my home with good food, good wine, friends and laughter
- To look at each day and recognize what I can control and (attempt to ) let go of what I can’t to God
- To not allow bitterness to color my life but focus on the blessings I have and the hope I have in Jesus for healing and restoration
- To run and enjoy the outdoors
- To embrace ALL the emotions in my heart…good and bad…no numbing, hiding or escaping…just being present
- To plant a garden
- To write 1 blog post a week
I am curious if you choose a word for the year? I’d love to hear it if you do.
Last week I finally returned to the Netherlands after several weeks hanging out in Seattle reacquainting myself with the city that was home for over 10 years. It was good to wander familiar streets and reminisce…to share meals with family, old friends and new friends I’d only “met” digitally…to finally be home for Christmas after 3 years abroad. There were a few days where the sun came out (I was shocked!) and the Olympic Mountains seemed to tower over the Seattle skyline.
I spent a couple hours parked just soaking in the beauty that surrounds this city…trying to memorize it for when I had to leave. There was a lot of familiarity and I was afraid that I would go back and immediately want to pack up and move “home”. I had moments when I did. Things are easier without the language difference. I have a lot of history there. I miss being physically present at Bethany Community Church. I really enjoy a lot of things about Seattle. But now is not the right time for me to move back…maybe someday. I surprised myself when at the end of my trip I was ready to come “home” to Groningen. It was a good feeling to have. That after almost 3 years here I really have friends and a community that I was excited to come back to. I wanted to come back to work. I wanted to get back on my bike…although I have a couple flat tires to fix first. I wanted to reconnect and get more involved with Vineyard Groningen. I was ready to come back to my life here in the Netherlands. I feel like a giant pause button was pushed on my life for 2012 and I was ready to get back to living and I felt a complete peace about doing that in Groningen.
Here’s to 2013 and getting back to living. I’m not yet sure what I am going to do with this little ‘ol blog but for now I’ll keep it going and see where it takes me.
I apoogize for the sporadic blogging. I know everyone is desperately waiting for the scattered thoughts that I choose to send out to cyberspace. But after my desert walk about I had 2 days in Groningen and then left again for some time in Seattle. It has been good to be back. I haven’t been back for 2.5 years which feels like a blink and an eternity at the same time. Some things have changed…some things haven’t. There have been many new additions to families. Some of my favorite restaurants and coffee shops are gone…some are still there. (Disclaimer for my Dutch friends…coffee shops here are where you actually go to buy COFFEE not marijuana) There seems to be construction everywhere. The weather is exactly how I remember it. I still love the white lights in downtown Seatte for the holidays. Advent season at Bethany Community Church has brought a peace to my heart. And the microbrews have not disappointed. This still feels like home and it is good for my soul.
So I will pick up blogging a bit more regularly in 2013 but right now I am giving myself the space for a giant exhale as 2012 comes to a close.
Happy Thanksgiving and greetings from Bahrain!! Today I am thankful for safety, family and my time in the desert.
Tuesday I ended my 2 week trip through Jordan and I must admit I was a bit sad to see my time there end. The people were lovely and hospitable with everyone we encountered saying “Welcome to Jordan” and serving us sugary tea until we were about to float away. We started our trip with 2 days in Aqaba on the Red Sea…camped and hiked with some local Bedouins in the Wadi Rum desert for 3 days…wandered through the ancient Nabataean ruins of Petra…floated and relaxed on the Dead Sea…imagined life in the Roman trading city of Jerash…smoked some shisha in the coffee shops of Amman…and picked up a few biblical highlights (The mountain where Moses viewed the promised land and the location on the Jordan river where Jesus was baptized)
)While all these sites were incredible in their own way…the highlight of my trip was the 3 days with Bedouin Directions in Wadi Rum. Over this past year I have been thinking a lot about the desert. How it is dry, desolate and very inhospitable to life…it makes survival very difficult. It is a place of extreme temperatures and most people don’t actually like to be in it without air conditioning or other methods of altering the climate. Christians often talk about “Desert Seasons” in their faith which typically describe a period of time when their patience is tested and God seems far away. My desert season is a bit different. It is a season where circumstances surrounding my life are difficult and seem to be more life taking than life giving. Waking up and “surviving” is a choice and there are some days without God’s grace it feels like an impossible one to make. But through all this God has felt closer to my heart than ever before and has provided in profound ways. That being said if I had my choice I would run out of this desert season as fast as possible.
I decided for my post-cancer trip I was going to get to know the desert better. I don’t naturally love it but I have had very little experience with it so…why not? It was interesting spending a few days with the Bedouins. They are a nomadic people who have spent 1000s of years living and surviving in the desert. And when you listen to them talk they PREFER the desert. They take every opportunity they get to bring their family out to the secluded camp. I asked Mehedi (the owner of the camp we were staying at) why they preferred the desert and he said:
- We feel safe and protected in the desert – I had never thought about the desert as a place of protection but he was right. We were free from the craziness of the city and felt completely safe.
- We are free from distractions…life is simple – Their lives revolved around food, tea, playing music, and sleeping. Not too bad.
- It is beautiful – Even though I am a Pacific Northwest girl and prefer the green mountains there was indeed a certain stark beauty to the sand and rock formations. And the stars were UNBELIEVABLE. Without any light noise or moon it was overwhelming how many stars there actually were in the sky. It made me feel profoundly small and completely loved at the same time. What a blessing.
Hmmm…there appears to be more to this desert than I originally thought. Maybe I will try to embrace this season as a time when God is protecting and providing for me rather than a place I just want to run away from.
Here are a few iphone photos…I have more on another camera that I haven’t been able to upload yet.
Audi our intrepid Bedouin guide – right before he left Lucy and I in the desert and told us to find the camp by going around the “big” rock, taking a right after the “small” flat rock and taking a left before the next big rock.
Lucy starting towards the “big” rock…needless to say after the directions we received we were beginning to contemplate our desert survival skills. Miraculously we made it.
Bedouin camp tucked away in the rocks for protection
Water pipe in the desert while we were star gazing.
Peaceful meditation as the sun goes down
This year is one that I would not care to repeat…EVER. But I will admit that I have learned more about myself and the overwhelming love and faithfulness of my father in heaven. These are lessons that I wouldn’t give back. They have transformed me and my perspective on the world and relationships. I am and will be a better person because of them. That’s what hardships do…they refine and purify your character…if you choose to face them rather than escape.
“We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling short changed. Quite the contrary – we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit.” Romans (5:3-5) – The Message
I am leaving cancer behind me. I finished the treatments. I ran a 4 mile race here in Groningen as my victory lap. I took down all the lovely support cards that poured in from around the world and “de-pinked” my house. I appreciate all the love people sent my direction, seriously humbling, but I am moving forward. I will never know if the cancer will come back…all I can do now is live and live fully.
This year has been tremendously difficult for me but also for my mom who wanted so desperately to be close and to be able to take care of me. She was able to make 2 trips over at the beginning and the end of the treatment but I know that she worried, prayed and sewed her way through the last 8 months. (When she gets anxious she makes napkins and aprons as a distraction. ) It is harder for people who love me to not be physically close to so they can see that I am actually doing quite OK despite my current situation. It is difficult but I have faith. I have hope. And I have real joy.That being said I am going to add 1 more month of worry to my poor family. (I hope someday to have my own children…and I’m sure there will be payback) I booked a post cancer holiday to the Middle East for a little desert walk about. My life has felt a bit deserty recently and I decided it was a fitting way to cap off this season. So…I will spend the next 3.5 weeks in Jordan, Bahrain and Dubai. I leave tomorrow and I promise, mom, to check in as often as I can. These countries are perfectly safe but the blogging will be a bit sporadic because I wont always have access to a computer. I will try to post some updates when possible.
We are designed to love and be in relationship. I find the human heart and emotions to be one of the most amazing miracles in God’s creation. But like I wrote on Tuesday we are imperfect and we wound each other…and by choosing to love you are always risking the possibility of being hurt.
“Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give your heart to no one. It will not be broken, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love, is hell.” C.S. Lewis (The Four Loves)
When our hearts get hurt we then have choices about how to deal with it. We can choose to forgive or hold on to our righteousness and focus on all the ways we have been wronged. It can feel good for a moment to think about revenge or justice…it can even be comforting to hold on to anger and bitterness. Here are a few of my thoughts on why forgiveness is essential for freedom.
- Choosing forgiveness means you are no longer controlled by the emotions of a situation. You are not captive to anger and bitterness but let it go and open your heart to life and love. This takes a tremendous amount of humility and courage.
- You can’t receive forgiveness without being able to give it…one of the great spiritual paradoxes. If we REALLY accept our identity as ABSOLUTELY forgiven by God…forgiveness should flow from us.
- Choosing to forgive means you let go of being a “victim”
- Choosing to forgive is a gift you can give yourself
- Choosing to forgive DOES NOT mean we continue to subject our self to unhealthy behavior but recognize that we can’t change the past and don’t want to be controlled by it.
- Forgiveness should never be forced but if your heart is honestly open to it have faith that you will find it
You can live a small life focused on how others are mistreating you or you can actually become a proactive person full of life and love. There is so much hope and beauty in forgiveness.Blessings,
I am not going to add many words to this post. I thought this was a great video to follow my post yesterday on wounds. Our wounds prevent us from embracing vulnerability.
Vulnerability is scary and uncertain BUT it is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love.
Please take the 20 minutes to watch until the end. If you’re reading this in an e-mail you will need to click over to the blog to watch.
I went to an improv comedy show last night in a cramped, hot, sweaty little pub and it was…AWESOME! I had no idea Groningen had an English speaking theater group or that there was a weekly improv show on Mondays at O’Caellaigh’s. If you’re in the area check out “Stranger Things Have Happened“.
First, I have much respect for any person that would get up in front of a group of random strangers and attempt to build a show around the suggestions tossed out from the crowd. Some of the ideas are just absurd. But that is what makes it funny. I love watching how the sketches unfold…seeing the adaptability and creativity of the performers put to the test.
I was talking with one of the performers after the show about the foundational principle of improv. You can never say…no or block a suggestion. Your response to any idea or change in the story line has to be “yes…and”. You have to accept the change…and then add something to it. Here’s the example wikipedia gave me for this concept:
Often considered the main rule of Improv, all it says is that you are not allowed to negate other people’s statements. Instead, add on to them.. For example, here is an example of a scene where “Yes, and…” is not used:
- 1: Alright, are you ready to tee off?
- 2: What are you talking about? We’re not on a golf course, we’re at a basketball court!
The scene is instantly killed by negating what player 1 said. Here’s an example of “Yes, and…” used correctly:
- 1: Alright, are you ready to tee off?
- 2: Yeah, but I’m pretty nervous. It’s the last hole, and I’m ahead by 2 strokes.
Player 2 has now added on to the scene, and developed a problem and a place for the scene to go.
Interesting, huh? I’ve decided that life is a bit like an improv show…you may have an idea of the direction it is headed but unexpected things will get added to it. You can’t necessarily change the additions but you can change how you respond to it. Will you block the change…or say “yes, this is now part of my story…and this is how I will build on it.” It doesn’t mean that saying “yes” is easy, but by being able to say it keeps your life moving forward.
Well folks the time has come…number 6. I have my last heavy duty chemo infusion in my treatment plan tomorrow. It has managed to come fast and slow at the same time and, to be honest, I have mixed feelings about it. Don’t get me wrong I am SO excited to not have poison pumped through my body every three weeks. I am ready to de fog my brain and re grow my hair . But it is odd to get to the end and wonder if I accomplished anything with this challenging process. Emotionally and spiritually I have grown in profound ways but I will never know if the chemo actually did anything. I just get to the end, walk out the door and wait…hopefully wait years without any sign of the cancer returning.
When I started on this cancer journey it seemed like running a half marathon/marathon was a good metaphor for the process. I would be tested physically and mentally and would have to rely on mental fortitude to push to the finish. There are many similarities but where the comparison breaks down for me is at the “finish”. Tomorrow I will be done (minus the side effects) with the tough chemo but my journey with cancer will continue in a different capacity. There is not an “I made it” moment and now I get to leave this all behind me. I get to leave this particular physical challenge behind me but the race is not done. I am now thinking a better metaphor is a long distance hike and I have just crested a summit but the trail continues before me. There will be times that are more physically demanding and others I get to stroll along enjoying the scenery. However, I am now on a cancer path and it will forever influence me.
But, that wont stop me from having one heck of a celebration after cresting this “chemo peak”. After all this I’ve learned you have to party whenever you have an excuse.