Connection in the Cracks

If I could give one gift to myself and all the people I love for the year of 2019, it would be connection.

A few days ago, my dear friend, Cindi, asked us to send her a word or sentence describing her husband, Len, in honor of his 60th. A lot of words came to mind, and I settled on “a man after God’s own heart” – or I could say “a couple after God’s own heart” when describing the 2 of them. I kept thinking about why I grabbed onto those words when I thought about them, and I think I’ve figured it out.

Len and Cindi are pretty amazing people. Most people would look at their lives and say, “Yeah – they are good people.” They probably didn’t spend too many days on God’s naughty list.:) But that’s not anything close to what I was thinking about.

When I go to their house, I always sleep well. I NEVER sleep well the first night I’m in any bed other than my own – except at the Woods’ house. It’s because I’m safe there. And I’m safe there because we are real. I described Len as a man after God’s own heart because of relationship. God is love, and God as three-in-one is relationship by essence, the ultimate definition of relationship. So in my book, a person who constantly seeks relationship, love, and connection is a person after God’s own heart.

Enlight174The best relationships are like a mountain. You keep climbing together, through all life’s challenges, over years of time, and the view just keeps getting better. Sometimes to get up a mountain, you have to climb a cliff. I’m not a good rock climber. Heights and upper body strength are not my thing, but I have done it enough to understand that the key to climbing a cliff is cracks in the rock.IMG_4601

Connections in friendships are like that – we connect in the cracks, the broken places. The cracks are the places where love has a way in. Vulnerability is the process of showing each other our cracks, scars, fears, and failures.  When we tell our stories and cry our tears together, we are shouting up the cliff face, “I’ve got you! You’re safely roped in, and your next foothold is about 2 feet to the left, 9 inches up.”

Our celebrity-drenched, social-media-driven society takes all those cliff faces and smooths them out. I LOVE all the Christmas cards I get every year, but I have to tell you – the filters just keep getting better. We show our smooth parts, our successes, who we want to be, who we think others want us to be, and often we leave no handholds for people to climb the mountain of friendship with us.

When we are struggling, there is a big temptation to cover it up with confidence and the veneer of achievement, but in doing that, we are shoving away the very people we need to connect with to help us in our struggle. What a vicious cycle!

I wrote an intimate song about connection after spending some time with a couple who met late in life and had no secrets about where they had come from. This is the kind of connection we want.

Scars

Completely uncovered, stripped down and unashamed

Unhindered affection in this sweet and strange late-life season

Not bothered by our yesterdays or scared of what’s to come

It’s just you and me darling – we’ve got love beyond all reason

C’mon and show me your scars now baby inside and out

Let me ease your darkened mind and lift up this burden of doubt

I’ll trace them with my little finger and fold them deep in my heart

It won’t erase our checkered past, but it’s a good place to start

You peel my layers slowly, with soft and tender care

My body worn and rounded I can safely bare

You don’t seem to mind – you need me a little bit broken

Old wounds begin to heal with deep mercy unspoken

So I’ll hold you tight with no desperation

And you’ll love me with wide open eyes

And we’ll walk this path together till the final fog

Laughing, grateful twilight lovers, you and I

Obviously, this involves romantic love, but I think that is beside the point. All lasting connections begin with love – love with eyes wide open for the friend or lover on vulnerable display. It’s knowing and being know. The lack of this is what is at the core of the political chaos, the spiritual divides, the loneliness that surrounds us.

I’m not sure what my exact steps will be when it comes to seeking and offering deeper connections this next year, but I am super excited about the views to come. If I get to any cool places, I’ll try to snap a photo and share it with you.:) I’m climbing alongside some precious friends these days.

And now… I’ll kick off the season of vulnerability by getting way out of my comfort zone and post the old, amateur, living-room MP3 of my song – if you’re interested. It’s not easy being vulnerable. I want to post the song sounding awesome, with a strong voice and better guitar skills. But alas, it’s a little cracked and weak in some spots, just like me, just as it should be.

“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” ― Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

When You Find Yourself On the Receiving End

 

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This is my crazy month at the back of the food pantry with our big annual food drive. Things are also getting busy in the front of the pantry with clients. With oil prices plummeting and jobs disappearing, I heard a few statements like this last week: “I’ve never done this before”…”I’ve never lost a job, and now I wonder if I’ll ever get one again in my 60’s”…”I’ve never been in a food pantry”…and from a 16 year old girl of a single Mom, “It’s nice not to worry if I’ll get to eat dinner for a few days. This is awesome.”

We talk a lot about giving, but we don’t talk as much about receiving. From my observations and personal experience, I believe these 2 things go hand in hand.

There are many reasons people give. They give to follow religious rules. They give to be seen as givers. They give because it is expected of them. They give because they feel guilty. And then there are those who give because it is their nature. It is like breathing. They give as if they have received something in such bounty that it is constantly spilling over their edges.

In the nonprofit world of children’s homes, churches, and food pantries, I have watched and participated in this dance of giver and receiver for decades. And I have seen that the most gracious receivers are often those who have been the most generous givers – givers of whatever they have to give, be it money, food, and clothing, or kindness, grace, and hugs. They walk into any given space and view the humanity around them with the humble knowing that they are deeply connected, that had they walked the same path as another, they would be in the same leaky boat or sinking even faster. Sometimes it’s because they have actually been in that boat. Other times, they simply know themselves well enough to be compassionate when dealing with human weakness.

So when their number is up, when their job vanishes, when they get sick, when they stumble into moral failure, they are not shocked and dismayed. They have lived their lives knowing – there by the grace of God go I… When they suddenly find themselves in their own tough spot, they are able to receive the hand of grace from another with genuine humility. They receive from a place of God-given-self-love that blesses the giver as much or more as the giver is blessing them.

Brené Brown in Rising Strong: “I define wholehearted living as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.” When we receive from a place of worthiness, we are fun to give to!

The other kinds of receiving are heart-wrenching to watch – the receiving that comes doused with guilt, anger, or pride. These poor souls still have to take the food because they are hungry or the jacket because they are cold, but they resent the giver as much as they resent the circumstances that led them there.

The gifts that are bestowed upon them feel like burdens instead of blessings, and the givers are challenged to find joy in such a process. Or, even worse, they cannot receive gifts at all and choose instead to wallow in unnecessary misery. Receiving a gift requires space to absorb it.

If our heart is completely full or ourselves – our pride, our fear, our anger – there is no room for gifts.

The hope of my heart is to learn to be as gracious in receiving as I am in giving. For I have received grace and mercy that is unexplainable – from God, from family, from friends. It has reached into the deepest crevices of my heart, and I am learning to soak it in like a sponge. My hope is that I will be able to draw deeply from the grace my heart has stored up in order to give more deeply to whoever comes my way.

Like it or not, if any of us live a long life on this earth, we will be receivers in the end. From what I have witnessed, old age is a grand distiller. It whittles away at us until we are left with the essence, the core of who we are. We can become exaggerated version of our younger personalities, and that can be ugly or radiant.

Time will blow away the chaff and leave the grain. What is my grain? What is the kernel at the heart of things? I hope to purposely practice authentic, joyful giving and receiving so that authenticity is what will be left in the end.

I am a big giver (keep reading). That is the truth, and yet it tells you little about me. There have been times when I have given spontaneously from a place of goodness and mercy. But do not be deceived, my friend. I am often a people pleaser. My striving to make others happy comes from a place of fear and insecurity. When I am giving from that place, it is a sick and manipulative effort. And although it might have the appearance of generosity, it is in fact a way of taking from others what I need. Tricky, huh?

As I have stumbled through this life, with each fall and each recovery, I have relinquished a little bit of that need to please. I have accepted more of God’s grace and mercy, and love has slipped in through the cracks and settled in deep places. My brokenness has led to my healing, and from my healing, I can now offer healing to others. When I give from that real place, that raw place, I also grow in my ability to receive well. And receiving well is a gift back to the giver – my thank you gift.

We often talk of downward cycles – addiction, abuse, dependence, etc… In contrast, authentic giving and receiving is an upward cycle. The way one feeds into the other is a thing of astonishing beauty.

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The past couple years have been a particular season of receiving from God and others – one season of many. It challenged my pride, but love won and my heart opened. Now I can give from a place of deeper understanding and vulnerability. I pray that I will file away this receiving experience and find even greater joy and gratitude next time I am in need of rescue. This is the deep community we all silently long for. And we can have it!

I’d love to hear from you – do you find it hard to receive? And how are you challenged as a giver?