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

Out of the Toddler Trenches

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For my 2 amazing Dalton sisters-in-law, Emily and Antonia, and for any other young moms who needs a little pep talk:

If you think you might be losing your mind, you just might be. Your life is crazy hard. Throughout each day, little bits of you are constantly pulled and pried away. Every time your name is called, it is because someone wants a piece of you. And when you think they have drained every last drop, there is no mercy. At 4:00 p.m., they are just getting started.

To make things even more interesting, you are tasked to begin each day with half of your usual energy supplies because you are only allowed 3-5 hours of broken sleep each night. Consider the war movie interrogation scenes. The first move of the interrogator is to make sure the prisoner is thoroughly sleep deprived. This ensures mental anguish, psychological weakness, and almost guarantees that the prisoner will say things he regrets.

You make it through a day with these sweet little terrors and, just in time, your knight in shining armor sweeps through the door to the rescue – hot bath and glass of wine, here you come – or maybe not – maybe he wants a hot dinner – and maybe he wants a little hot “dessert”. And that is such a relief because that is precisely what you have been dreaming of all day – another person touching you.

When he asks in that pretend-nice voice, trying unsuccessfully to mask his astonishment at the mess that surrounds him and the fact that you are somehow still in the same clothes you were wearing when he went to work YESTERDAY, “What did you do today?”, you don’t know if you want to scream, run away or hug/ring his neck.

The tears start to prick your eyes when you tell him that you managed a shower (you smell like a guy because you used Axe body wash to clean your hair since you are out of shampoo and you only shaved 1 leg before your 3-year-old had a meltdown and your clothes are the same because everything else is dirty). Oh, but one of the kids brushed her teeth, you swished with mouthwash, and everyone, including you, had a protein-packed lunch of leftover Chick-Fil-A nuggets and mac-n-cheese. You hit this day clean out of the park, girl!


Here is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If you wrote down every tiny task for one single day, line for line, starting with the first diaper change and ending with the last pat on the back, that list would be longer than Anna Karenina!


 

And, no, your man doesn’t understand. I don’t even fully understand anymore, and I’ve been there. I remember pacing the floor of my house at 3 a.m., crying out loud begging God to help me not drop my 5-month-old, screaming, colicky boy on his head. I remember sobbing in the exam room – ugly sobbing – when my dear Dr. Rick showed me his neat little chart and said so calmly, “Actually, a baby this age sleeping 7 hours a day (TOTAL) is in the normal range, the lowest end of normal, but he’s fine”.

The fist 13 years did a number on me, no doubt (and, yes, of course it was worth it!) But I don’t work in the church nursery and I don’t babysit my neighbor’s toddler unless it’s an emergency because I am absolutely spent from the season you are in the middle of.

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Anna wins -- up with Mom at 5 a.m.

Even your friends who are in the trenches with you don’t always understand – not your kids – not your particulars. When you feel very alone, often it’s because you are. Even if you had someone who really understood what you were feeling, it’s hard to find the time to tell them about it.

Friends during this stage are tricky. Often the things that are very difficult for you seem easy for them. I had a picky eater and it seemed like I was surrounded by Moms who had their toddlers happily downing organic kale chips and wild salmon while my little one munched her rainbow Goldfish. We watched a lot of Thomas/Dora/Diego/Teletubbies/yes-Teletubbies while friends read The Chronicles of Narnia – all of them – out loud – to their preschoolers. Not one of mine was fully potty trained before 3 ½, nursing never went as planned, and it never made me feel more cuddly or bonded. Yes, my gallon-sized boobs could have fed the village, but the thought, “This is what I was made for,” never went through my sluggish head.

Facebook didn’t arrive for me until my firstborn was almost 7. It was for spying on your high school classmates and posting links to your unedited Picasa web albums for the grandparents. Now – OMG! – you awake to posts from FB, Twitter, Instagram from 6,000 friends with their creative, strategically angled, cropped and filtered family photos with the backdrop being their perfect Pinterest birthday party for their 2-year-old. Seriously, someone give me a Xanax before my heart explodes.

You know IT”S NOT REAL – oh… but what if it is? Or what if they find out your news feed isn’t exactly showing the whole picture? You would be utterly exposed at the first play date. Social media can be the perfect magnifier for loneliness and insecurity, yet it is often the first place we turn when we are lonely and insecure.

I offer no magical solutions for your struggles. Seriously, I’m just trying to recover from your stage and figure out moody teenagers and the deep mystery of my own heart. But I would suggest that you find a woman like me and fake an emergency so she will be guilted into babysitting your toddler. Then hopefully she will remember and she will have mercy on your soul and she will come beside you and just sit there as a testament that she is still alive on the other side. Maybe she is still married to the same husband and can tell you their story of survival (God bless mine for still coming home to me) – or if not, she can tell you what she might have done differently. After a hard day, you could write her a ranting email instead of gawking at your friend’s latest Instagram masterpiece. Give yourself a break!

One last note to my forty-something pals.You might be suffering acutely from our own form of P.T.S.D. (Post Toddler Stress Disorder). The last thing you want to do is hold a snotty, screaming 2-year-old. But what if we all adopted just one young Mom and cheered her on? What if we establish a new pattern so they don’t have to do it all alone? Who might you rescue?

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Grains of Sand

time

If your life was an hourglass, how full would it be? If my life were to extend to 78, I would still have half of my adult life left to live; many days I am optimistic about that prospect. But that confidence of continuance is being interrupted more and more – deaths of high school friends, aging parents, health concerns, tragic accidents.  Last week, I had a scary popping feeling in my head followed by nauseating pain and numbness of the left side of my face. Fortunately CT and MRI’s were all clear, but while I waited on results (and recovered from the whiplash from the car accident that occurred on the trip home from the hospital – yep), I allowed my mind to wander a little.  Not to the point of morbid obsession – let’s just call it a helpful, hopefully-midlife checkup.

Here is the question I wanted to answer: What would my loved ones know from me and about me if I dropped dead tomorrow? What particulars could they hold on to in confidence?

letters

I have tried to incorporate 2 New Year’s Intentions for 2015 (if I called them resolutions they would be doomed to failure). My goals are to increase the likelihood that my loved ones know how they are loved by me and that everyone I meet feels honored or recognized in some way. My first intention is to write letters. Lots of letters with real pen and paper, envelopes and stamps. I haven’t kept accurate count, but I think I’ve written about 30 letters so far. I often have thankful thoughts and affectionate feelings about people, so I decided to start writing it down. It’s been a deeply meaningful undertaking.

We tend to save our tributes to loved ones for funerals, so their tributes become a gift to ourselves instead of to them. What encouragement would we find if we “paid our respects”  to each other while we are still living?

My other intention is to pay more careful attention to the people in front of me – first my family (it is easy to half-listen to their stories and thoughts because I’m so busy taking care of them!),  grocery store employees, doctor’s office receptionists, neighbor kids, UPS delivery guys, teachers in car line, whoever. Sometimes I get a chance to engage them in a personal way. Other times it means real eye contact, acknowledging their unique humanity and our brief, particular intersection, no matter how small and short it may seem. It has been fascinating to watch how people react to someone looking at them, smiling, simply communicating, “I see you.”  Powerful stuff.

Whether or not I have the privilege to continue writing letters, paying attention, watching the birds, photographing the moon, or composing music, I want whatever days are left in my life to be more intentional. I hope that I still choose to meander at times, for the purpose of restoration and not just because I’m being lazy and inattentive. I also hope that my precious ones will know why I love them.

I would love to hear from you if you have found practices that help you be more connected. Leave me a comment.  I might copy you next year!

Sweet Home

Family

I am very thankful for my current house – a great 1-story w/ 3 bedrooms and a open living/kitchen area that has room to cram 50 people if needed. I chose the cool paint colors and, although I wouldn’t have picked the kitchen counters, they are expansive. But this is the truth – the reason this house is home is because of the people and animals that inhabit it. I really do believe that I could move into a tent (maybe 2 tents) or a trailer or whatever and make it work with my clan. It doesn’t hurt that my husband’s got some skills and could take care of us in all kinds of crazy situations. Point is – I have found my home with this husband and these children not just because we are related, but because they are “my people”.

When it comes to feeling this sense of home in friendships, things are a little different. Unlike marriage, where the hope is that you select your 1 person and stick with it for better or worse – for good, friends can come and go without any legal nightmares or social disgraces.  Friends are a daily choice. They only remain if you make a conscious decision to make it so. They do not wake up in your bed by default every morning, so in order to have them in your life, someone must be making that happen. What an amazing thing then when you find a handful of people like this that stay in your life no matter what – for as long (or even longer) than a marriage. I have a handful of these treasured relationships, but today I want to highlight one in particular. She’s special, and it’s her birthday.

If something awesome happens – I want to tell Sharon. She will be so excited for me. We both want to win the HGTV Dream House in Nantucket.  If I win, she will hate me for a couple minutes and tell me flat out how jealous she is and how evil I am for entering because that was meant to be her house. Then, we will plan our summer in Nantucket together before we figure out how to divide up the furnishings and sell the house because the taxes are too high.  One the other side of life, if tragedy strikes – I also want to tell Sharon. There is nothing you can’t throw at her. This quote from Henri Nouwen’s book Out of Solitude (such a lovely little read) sums it up perfectly.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

I am thankful for Sharon, for my husband and children, and others (you know who you are) who can tolerate the authentic me without pressing me to be anything else.  I want to be this kind of friend in return.  I want to be this kind of wife and mother and daughter and sister.  I wrote this song, Sweet Home, on many levels.  It started as a simple song about finding your physical home, but it was really much deeper than that.  It reflects the home I have found with my family and the home that I instantly feel with my friends.  It is about the seeking and the finding of that kind of place, and about the time and space and freedom it takes to find it.  So, my precious family and friends, it is a song I will sing over you today.

Sweet Home

V1:

It’s in silence that our words gain their meaning

and in listening that the speaking truly heals

Space will bring us closer to the truth that keeps us free

Lose it all so someday we will find it

Chorus:

Give us room to roam and time for thoughts to wander

Slow the pace and let the wonders be revealed

Leave your striving far behind and rest in who you are

It’s a solitary healing for the heart

Let it go, let it go, all the worries of this world, let em go.

 V2:

Seek the stillness — breathe it deeply

Find the peace that’s hidden far within

Let the sun be your embrace, the sea serenity

You’re a part of all the beauty that surrounds you

Bridge:

The waves roll in and your heart expands

Dreams reaching for the summer sky

The birds cry out with their morning song

Beckon you to come on out and sing along

You are home. Oh, sweet home, sweet home, home to stay.

 Second Chorus:

You have room to roam and time for thoughts to wander

A slower pace to let the wonders be revealed

You left striving far behind and found the truth of you are

A joyful journey for a grateful heart

Let it go, you are home, your heart has found its resting place

You are home