Awakenings

Glimpses of the Divine in the Mundane

A poem I wrote the other night while grieving the loss of my hometown of Paradise:

I’m sorry – Please excuse the smoke.
It’s just the dreams and hopes of 27 thousand yesterdays.
It’s just the minuscule evidence of
That one baby picture,
That painting of the sea captain by my brother,
And those family portraits of the past 40 years.
It’s just the piano from my grandmother who passed away that my brother just brought back from Iowa.

Excuse the hazardous air quality.
It’s just the thousands of saved kid’s drawings and crafts, books, children’s toys from years gone by that had been unpacked for grandchildren, wedding certificates, diaries, the favorite pillows, that favorite teddy bear from baby years, the 1960s records and the VHS tapes of birthday parties and graduations.

It’s just the houses of my childhood friends where we would play in the late summer evenings and spend nights dreaming of what our grownup years would bring. Not knowing that our futures would all hold this moment in time as our collective yesterdays ascend to the sky.

Please excuse the falling ash.
It’s just the church where I grew up attending with all the children’s songs, VBS programs and the baptismal where I chose to dedicate my life to God. It’s just the aisle where I stood and looked at the man on the day that I said “I Do”.

The falling ash – It’s just Paradise.
A little non-destination town that’s not on the way to anything important. It’s just that end-of-the-road town where people settle and know each other and roots run deep. It’s just a place where the biggest news was that Taco Bell came to town 20 years ago – until Starbucks finally made it 4 months ago.

Paradise – it’s just the place where everyone is your neighbor, as backyards are shared and simple icons are known and loved. Icons that are now ashes falling around you (sorry about that).
Icons like Fosters Freeze.
Gold Nugget Days.
Honey Run Road Covered Bridge.
That one antique store, just to name a few.
Icons like Kalico Kitchen where my dad and I had breakfast on the day of my wedding, just the two of us.
Icons like Darlene’s Frozen Yogurt and Round Table Pizza where many birthday parties growing up took place, not to mention the take home pizzas to mom and dad on weekends we would visit.
Personal icons like the Lucas’s house where many days and nights were spent as we grew up from toddlers, to grade school, to junior high, taking care of animals, watching movies, going trick-r-treating, and discovering our first crushes together.
Icons like the Muth house, where we made brownies and talked about boys and got ready for banquets and wrote songs, and led out in different high school student leadership opportunities.
Icons like the youth room at the church where we discovered so many amazing things together and planned mission trips and prayer conferences and learned what it meant to be used by God right here and right now.
Icons like Rankin Way house where we would watch different phases of our family’s life every year as we gathered for potlucks, game nights or just hear some good music.
Or Country Club where huge gatherings would take place like the 4th of July party for the neighborhood, or just coming together for brunch, or talking about religion and politics.
Or Peterson’s house where we would eat the most delicious Swedish treats and have a visit from Santa.
Or all the houses around town that we lived in since age 2, (that are now all gone) and finally settling on what would become home: Boquest Blvd. Boquest, where breakfast was late, like nights, and eras of my life passed within those 4 walls – from preteen, to high school, and as the walls of my room changed their decor as they held my changing eras like a quiet, constant friend. The early mornings getting ready for school, the late nights studying or dreaming of tomorrows that are now todays. The Christmas eves and mornings where my brother would wake me up to go open our stockings. The night I spent in that room with my sister before the day of my wedding, our conversations waning into the early morning. The years and eras fleeting now in hindsight, as most recently these four walls had been a refuge for my aging parents. And not knowing that that one night would be my final farewell to my constant silent friend – my room – where I spent a few nights with my infant son as we cherished time with family. That last night, not knowing that we would be together for the last time…in Paradise.

… And not to mention all the lives that were lost: mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents, beloved pets …

 

All of these things now ashes falling around you.

But please, once again, excuse our smoke.
It’s just what’s left of what was one of the most unique little settlements in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains: what was Paradise.💔

Copyright 2018 Krystalynn Martin, All Rights Reserved

I was sitting there today, in Whole Foods, eating my sandwich and watching the crowds.  I felt you move against my abdomen wall as my sandwich became food for you and me.  I’ve been sensing your wild nature from the beginning, even before I could feel you move.  I am aware of your warrior-ness, your tenacity, your fight for survival and to become life in this world we inhabit and call home.

And yet I worry.  As I touch my belly and feel your beautiful life form growing, I know the world that you as a female will enter into.  I am well-acquainted with the fingers that will try to choke out your individuality.  I cringe at the misogynistic world that awaits to devour your humanity and unique feminine war-like strength.  I shutter as I think of how religion will try to put its foot on your neck and gently scream of who you are as a woman and what you can and cannot be.  I abhor the thought of anyone who would turn you into a mere object to lust over, and what if you feel you must succumb to their eyes and wants, and you trade in your wildness to become the object rather than the creation.  I want to strip all magazine isles of the images that will shout out to you of what beauty is – so that you may find and discover the beauty that is already within you, and wear it fearlessly to the world.  I know the well-meaning voices that will advise you and scold you and insult you for simply being you.  I fear for the self-hatred that may try to creep into your soul, where you will try to bury your gifts and your beauty – that you would compare yourself with others and try to trade your uniqueness for theirs.  I already feel angry at the bully who may attempt to squelch your fight, your joy, your you-ness.

I haven’t met you, but I already know you are so much more than the shell of the body you will be born into.  Your body, which I know will be beautiful, is not what defines you.  As you are being knit inside me, your personality and character is there within you.  You are wild.  You are beautiful.  You are undefinable.  You are woman.  You are warrior.  You are more than fashion statements and mascara.  You are more than the boys who will chase you, or reject you.  You are beyond the opinions of mere people who will try to control you and morph you into their insecure status.  You are here for such a time as this.  Never let yourself be whittled down to a grade, or how many likes you get on Facebook. Never let yourself become consumed with your waist-size or if you’re wearing the right clothing brand. Instead, find your strength in the old oak trees.  Find your passion in the moving waters of river and sea.  Find your joy in soaking in the sun, playing with caterpillars, or laying in the grass barefoot, staring at the never-ending sky.  For you were created from beyond this substance we call our world.  You came from the unknown mystery of Love – a place that cannot be defined, or boxed, or placed in a cage.

So when others try to handcuff your soul, remember that it is impossible, unless you give them the keys to do it.  And why would you?  You are a warrior woman from beyond the farthest star in the universe!  You cannot be chained!  Yes, this world will test you to your very core.  Yes, magazine isles will scream lies of what beauty is.  Yes, misogyny will continue to exist, and there will be those who will try to objectify you.  Yes, religion will attempt to crush your talents and skills, especially if they see your wild-woman nature.  Yes, you will be tempted to contain your beauty only in hair, clothes and makeup.  Yes, you will feel your heart being ripped out of your chest as it is broken for the first time when you lose your first love.  But – you are still wild warrior woman!  You were wild warrior woman before these things existed, therefore these things cannot change what you already are!  You are undefinable.

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So as I finished my sandwich, and stood to leave, I felt the eyes of those around me glance at my belly – at you.  Already you are doing it!  Your presence is already causing others to pause in the madness of their day.  Already you are reminding others of their true beauty and the miracle of being alive.

As I walk out of Whole Foods and carry you these next 7 weeks, and as your body completes the finishing touches of the rise and fall of legs, arms, toes, fingers, nose and ears.  As you finish becoming before you enter our world, I realize that every person I come in contact with is exactly what I have described you to be.  We are all undefinable.  We are all already beautiful.  We are in the presence of sacredness all the time when we are surrounded with other human beings.  Yeah, we all have the same sorts of body parts – arms, legs, heads, eyes, ears, mouths, etc.  But we are all completely undefinable in that there has and never will be anyone like you, like me.  Ever.  Ever!  So why do we hurt each other?  Why are there things like misogyny?  Why is there pornagraphy?  Why do we slaughter each other as if we’re replaceable?  Why do we use religion to cage the sacred, beautiful, warrior-like beings we are? Why do we let hate morph us into non-human creatures who will kill with our words, if not with our hands. When will it stop?  Perhaps when we believe that we are as sacred as we see our children to be.  Perhaps then we will realize that we are all, individually, sacred miraculous creations, sent from beyond the farthest star.  Perhaps when we see Love encapsulated within the flesh and blood walls of the population, a population that we are a part of.  Perhaps when we realize that we all hold the keys to stopping the misogynistic, lust-ridden, wounded, hate-absorbed, blood-drenched society we call our normal world.

So little one, thank you.  Thank you for reminding me of my wildness, of my nature that cannot be caged.  Thank you for opening my eyes to remember that all humanity is a beautiful, unique creation that should be cradled with utmost care.  Thank you for your jabs and kicks – a preview of the way you’re going to rock this world!  And may you know, that through all the highs and lows of what growing up will mean, with all the stereotypes screaming at you, that you are beautiful, mighty, strong and undefinable.  Because you are the only human being EVER to be you!  You are my warrior woman!

letter

We didn’t expect to get pregnant.  My husband and I have been married for 12 years, and it hadn’t happened yet, so we just assumed it wouldn’t happen.  Then suddenly, walla!  I’m with child.  32 weeks along as I’m writing this.

My first reaction when I found out was “oh shoot!”  I know, not like the movies at all.  The first 12 weeks were a blur as I was away on Sabbatical getting my health back after experiencing chronic burnout.  We heard the heartbeat and “saw” her for the first time at 6 weeks. Pretty weird.

At 6 weeks

At 6 weeks

No, I didn’t cry – I was more stunned than anything.  At 12 weeks, we got another heartbeat and “saw” her again – this time instead of looking like a wormish creature from some bad sci-fi movie, she actually looked like a tiny human being with an alien head.  Wow.  That was fast.

At 12 Weeks

At 12 Weeks

Throughout the weeks and months that followed, we “watched” her grow and fight her way into existence, looking more and more human.  It’s been cool and weird to finally feel her movements, see her kicks and turning in my belly from the outside.  It’s been crazy to watch in helplessness as my abdomen balloons out to make room for this growing human being.  And I’m doing nothing to make it happen – except eating, exercising and trying to sleep.

At 18 weeks - Quite the Fighter!

At 18 weeks – Quite the Fighter!

Surrender.  That has been the beautiful thing throughout this process.  I’m not “in there” examining and micro-managing the process of her creation in my womb. I’m not leaving comments about how her toes need a different shape, or pressing a “like” button as I examine the process of growth.  It’s just happening. In fact, we have no clue what she will look like.  This is probably one of the longest things we as human beings living in western civilizations have to wait for.  We’re so used to taking an early peek, putting something on credit card so we can have it now, or over-nighting a product so we don’t have to wait.  But not with a human being.  9 months of waiting, wondering, fearing and hoping.  I’m not controlling a thing, and it’s still happening.  It’s pretty mind-blowing.

So I’m at week 32.  Haven’t “seen” her since week 18, but I know she’s there.  It’s fun to watch my belly move after I eat, as she dances (hopefully) from the delicious sustenance I’m providing her.  It’s cool to play music and feel a jab or kick, or perhaps it’s a twirl.  I can only imagine what it would be like to be a human in the womb.  Can you imagine?  The first time hearing something – ever!  Is it scary?  Is fear even realized yet?  And to start to see light coming through the pink lining of your world as your eyes open for the first time ever!  What is that like to experience as a human fetus?  Is there any wonder or joy at that stage?  Is there curiosity?  Do fetuses have bad days?  I actually looked up if babies cry in the womb before they’re born.  There’s substantial evidence that they do.  But what are they crying about? Do they have dreams yet?  Are they aware of danger, or surprises, or love?

All these thoughts have led me to other ponderings.  As they get used to their world, their routine, and their existence, do they imagine another world?  Can they fathom this world that they’re about to enter?  When birth happens, what the heck are they thinking?  Does it feel like they’re dying?  Are they disappointed to leave their comfort zone – forever?  In the resurrection of being born, can they fathom that this world is even possible?  As they take their first breath, does it hurt?  Is it scary to breath in air, and not amniotic fluid?  How does it feel to suddenly be flailing around, with no womb to push against?  Does it feel like they’re falling because of the expanse of space to move around in?  What’s it like to actually eat for the first time through the mouth?  Does it hurt to have the digestive system work for the first time with food-to-mouth?  What’s it feel like to experience touch on your skin for the first time as a newborn human?  And the brightness!  Can you imagine how the eyes must feel seeing the outside world?

At 31 Weeks

At 31 Weeks

So many thoughts and questions and wonderings!  Which makes me think of the Divine and the correlation between pregnancy, birth, and life on this planet and beyond.  Is this planet like our womb?  Do we think we know everything about it?  Do we feel scared when we experience something supernatural, like the fetus hearing noise for the first time but not knowing where it’s coming from?  If we haven’t “heard” God’s voice, does it mean He doesn’t exist, or maybe our spiritual hearing hasn’t developed yet.  Are there moments when it seems like we’re stuck and can’t breathe and maybe we’re ready for a birth into a new reality?  But are we afraid to leave our comfort zones, be it work, religion, etc?  Are there times that we feel out of control, when in reality perhaps we’re being born into a new experience that will bring us greater life, greater depth, greater love?  Just because some are not conscious of the Divine, does that mean the Divine does not exist?  Is my baby completely conscience of me?  Or is she happily living her life, doing whatever she does in that confined space all day, and not even thinking about me?  And yet, I’m in awe of her and her growth and movements.  Is the Divine even more in awe of us than a mother is for her growing child?  Is God mesmerized by our movements, our growth, our “becoming”?

As I hold my belly and feel the kick of this tiny human inside me, does she feel my hand cradling her punches and kicks?  Does she know she’s not alone?  As we think about where we are in our life and existence today, stop for a minute.  Have you sensed the Divine in some way?  Have you heard a faint voice?  Have you experienced some form of sustaining strength, comfort, wisdom or love that has fed your soul?  Have you felt the labor pains of change encouraging you to take that next step, even if it’s scary, because it might just be a breath of life that will expand your lungs and your horizons?  And if you haven’t sensed anything at all lately, could it be that you’re at some point in life where you are developing sight, sound and spiritual muscles that will soon open up worlds of wonder for you?

I still have a lot more expanding (literally) to do before this tiny human emerges upon the earth.  And then, as I’ve been told, the lesson of life will continue.  Lessons of surrender will deepen.  But ultimately, I find comfort knowing that the Divine carries me within this womb we call life, cradles me within the Almighty arms of ultimate Love, and sustains me whether I acknowledge the existence of a Higher power or not.  May we continue to live in awe of this life, and may we find hope that there is a possibility of another world to be born into.

pregnant-black-and-white

I noticed these words etched in a table at our school library recently.  Sitting mindlessly in a staff meeting, routines attached to me like puppet strings, pulling me in every direction.  And me, with no mind of my own, blindly following the prescribed script for the day.  I sat there, eyes glazed over, heart still pumping, but passion waning.  I appeared to be living, doing all my duties, following up on all my responsibilities, going through the motions.  Alive with a pulse, but asleep to awe and wonder.  In fact, perhaps just a warm body, with inconsistent pulse jumping now and then – walking like the dead – a zombie to the miracle of this moment.  Drenched in the monotony that had become my existence.  Apathetic moments filled with sighs and putting one foot in front of the other.  Moments filled with “making it through the day.”

I don’t even know what made me look.  I’ve sat at the same table on-and-off for 10 years.  10 years of staff meetings, of conversations, of announcements.  But today, it was as if these words whispered to my yearning soul.  My eyes drifted to the table’s edge.  Something went 0ff – an alarm of sorts.  It was if time stopped.  The sounds of the staff meeting suddenly faded into the background.  It was as if I was transported into a space and time where reality became clear.  It was as if I were in a sanctuary of awakening.

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A snapshot of the words etched in that table

“I WAS HERE.”  Who wrote this phrase?  Who took the time to etch it into the side of the table?  Who was behind those words?  Like a standard thrust into the territory of their time and space, there it still stood.  Alone, bold, and courageous.  Proclaiming to whomever would notice or not notice, that “I” was Here!  A human cry from every heart to be seen, to be acknowledged, to be loved.  I WAS HERE.

Who was the face behind the “I”?  What was their story, their struggle, their journey?  Where were they now?  Had they found the acknowledgement they had hungered for?  Even as they etched that 3-word phrase, they had already bypassed that moment.  Why did they use past tense?  Why not proclaim in present tense words of “I AM HERE” ?

Then it hit me.  While conversations of calendar items and grades surrounded me, its truth slammed into my world.  With the whir of announcements and “life” happening around me – I WAS NOW HERE.  In the same place.  My fingers traced the outline of the words.  I saw them – I felt them.  I was now HERE.  This is now my time and space.  And even as I write this, “now” has just become “was”.  Time.  So fleeting!  Within milliseconds HERE becomes THERE, and NOW becomes THEN.  IS becomes WAS, and TODAY becomes YESTERDAY.  In fact, could it be that right now we are making history and creating the masterpieces that will guide and inspire the human race of tomorrow?  We are all leaving our etch into this world – “I WAS HERE.”

Time:  so present.  Why aren’t we? In the madness of bills to pay, mouths to feed, calendars to fill, obligations to meet, responsibilities to carry out, are we aware of NOW?  I AM HERE.  YOU ARE HERE.  Like a mark on a map at the mall, or an appointment written down on a calendar space, or a carved phrase etched into wood, we are HERE – right here.  Why do we live life as if we’re on some moving escalator, helpless to the turns, events, choices…always yearning for the weekend, or the next vacation, or the end of the day.  Waiting and counting down the NOW moments til the next TV show, the next meal, the next appointment, our next Facebook post, the next move.  Surrounded in the midst of creating the photo album of our life, we are so many times already in past tense mode, planning our next agenda item, our next encounter, our next moment worth savoring.  Not realizing that perhaps we are in the middle of making a memory that we’ll yearn for later on.  Ironically, in the moments we rush past, we make ourselves extinct.  For if we are constantly ever-living in the future or the past, and we are never in the now, then we are really not alive.  Because life exists right now.  The past can’t be changed.  The future hasn’t happened yet.  Life only happens Right NOW!

The-Time-Is-Now

I still wonder who carved that phrase in that table.  I hope they’re living a beautiful life where they are fully aware of the miracle of this moment.  As the staff meeting came to an end, with the rest of that day waiting with bated breath to be realized, I walked out with a warmer heart, a revived sense of being, and a returned pulse to the wonders surrounding me.  I wish I could meet this person who left their mark on that table, and thank them for the prophetic reminder.  That their words have been whispering to me, “don’t settle; open your eyes; you only have so much time in this moment!”  I’ve been reminded that happiness is actually present in THIS moment, as close and as subtle as faded words etched in a table.  The choice is ours whether or not to slow down and be present to that miracle.  Because, regardless of whether or not we’re aware of it, WE ARE HERE.

Let me tell you a little about the day in the life of our 1 year old and our 3 year old that just happened pretty recently.  Ok, in all honesty, it happened last night and this morning during our family vacation.  We all come with certain expectations when we come on vacation, right?  Expectations like we’re gonna have golden moments all the time.  I’m gonna get exactly what my soul needs.  Our kids are gonna make memories that will last them a lifetime.  My husband and I will reconnect.  And the list goes on. But let’s face it:  parenting can be tough.  Like, a lot of the time!  And it doesn’t take a vacation on family vacation.

So here is what my last 24 hours looked like:

We’re potty training the 3 year old, and while at a restaurant she goes poo in her pants.  However, we forgot to bring a change of pants, so the Moana underwear were used as a wipe and thrown away, and we happened to find a pullup diaper to put on her.  Finished eating and got in the car, taking off the poop-smelling pants so she doesn’t get it on the booster seat.  Take the 15 minute car drive to where we’re staying, while tickling the 1 year old so he doesn’t fall asleep before we get home to put him down for a nap.  Arrive “home” to where we change everyone’s diaper, and put on clean undies on the 3 year old, and put everyone down for a nap.  Whew.  Take a breather while our kids nap, and then when they wake up, go on a bike ride to a garden.  But first, change of plans, must stop at the playground because that’s what we did yesterday when we took a bike ride, so if we don’t do that today all hell will break loose for our 3 year old as we are in pre-meltdown mode.  Avert the meltdown by taking a detour to the playground before the garden:  success.  The next few hours pass by in the routines of site-seeing with toddlers and then rushing “home” to get food to eat and bath time, stories, songs and bed.  Kids go to bed and hubby and I crash in a zombie-like state of PTSD after accomplishing another great day of family vacation with toddlers!  After zoning out, we summon enough energy to prepare food and watch a movie before collapsing into bed.  2 hours later, after we’ve fallen asleep, our 1 year old screams and wakes us all up – teething.  For the next 2 hours we trade off rocking, singing, feeding him back to sleep.  4 hours later our 3 year old is up and ready to go at it again!  Sigh…  Yay!  Good morning…

So we get up and do the morning routine:  potty, food, etc.  She then asks for the iPad.  We sometimes do the iPad, so I, in my exhausted state, succumb to the pressure of the electronic babysitter, and let her have the iPad so I can have a minute to myself to eat, wake up, etc.  15 minutes later it’s time to go, and because she is getting pulled away from the beloved iPad, a full meltdown occurs.  I mean, we’re talking tantrum on steroids.  And then the next hour is a meltdown about everything:  combing her hair, walking a different route to the beach than last time, going out a different door to the car…on and on and on…  You know, one of those mornings.  One of those days.  And I of course am blaming myself for the iPad, which started it all.  If I could only be a super mom and not need sleep and just put my needs aside… You know, all the mom-shaming things we hear or say to ourselves.  And my poor 1 year old is just kind of watching the whole thing.  If he was at the age of eating popcorn, I’m sure he would have loved some for the show.  We get in the car and then he starts crying and having a meltdown, as she is now collecting herself and now excited for the adventure at hand.  You know the drill.  An hour later and it’s still his turn with the meltdown, throwing food at me because he wanted to eat something else first…  Ah, family vacations with little ones….  The golden memories and moments being written on our hearts…hahahaha…

And as I write this, I feel somewhat guilty with the things that people say like “it goes by so fast…” or “…you’ll look back and relish these moments…”  And I know it’s true.

And that is what brings me to this truth that I have come to know:  our kids are raising us.  We think we are doing all the heavy lifting, and in some ways we are.  But in a lot of ways the thing that makes parenting to tough is that we don’t know what the heck we’re doing!  And once you get it down, they suddenly are going through a new phase, and we are starting all over again.  And once you get it down with one, it really doesn’t matter because the next one is a completely different person so it’s a whole new journey again.  Yep, our kids are raising us. Here are some of the things that they are raising in us or teaching us lately:

  • Slow down – it’s really not that important, whatever it is.  There is much beauty to be had in the small moments that can at first seem mundane.
  • Let go of expectations.  Why are we going and doing and being all that?  Stop!  Let go of it all and let whatever happens today happen.  No expectations.  Just BE.
  • I can be quite the selfish jerk.  Why is my agenda so important?  Maybe importance looks a bit different in the whole scheme of things.  Maybe what’s important is sitting on the floor and rolling a ball back and forth for 40 minutes.  Maybe that’s how we conquer the day, as I download quality time and simple unconditional love into my baby’s hard drive of his soul.
  • Going potty should always be celebrated, no matter where it takes place!  It’s an amazing thing to have a working internal plumbing system, and don’t care what the person in the next stall thinks.  Shout “I’m a big girl!!  I kept my underwear dry!  Tinkle tinkle!!”  Potty training will slow down your life, but it will also open up your soul to the little miracles of tiny celebrations that we, as adults, take for granted and think are merely routine.
  • Take a nap!  Slow down long enough to let your mind, body and soul rest.  And sleep close with those you love.  It’s a great thing to snuggle.  And when it’s time to get up, be ready for the next adventure.
  • Anytime is a good time for snack time!
  • Dance to good music.  Who cares what people think!  This moment is amazing – so dance away!
  • Everyone can be a friend.
  • There are many things in life that need repeating – especially the things that bring us joy.
  • There’s no such thing as wearing out a good song.  It’s a good song, so play it, sing it, shout it!
  • Everything is unpredictable.  Although routines are necessary, human emotion is a force that is not tamed.  So breathe deeply and remind yourself that it’s not about you, and not to take it personally.  This tiny human is wild and beautiful and complicated.  None of us, including the child themselves, have dealt with this particular person before.
  • Don’t be afraid to get dirty – that’s when the real fun begins!  A mess can usually be cleaned up later, and most of the time it’s worth the memories that will be made.
  • Take a timeout.  It can be frustrating, and that’s ok.  Just take a moment to step away and regroup, reminding yourself of the bigger picture.  Timeouts aren’t just for little kids.
  • Don’t forget what it’s like to be a kid.  Hang onto the magic.  Don’t lose sight of the wonder.
  • Don’t worry so much about hair, and makeup, and clothing styles.  The day is wasting!  Let’s go play!
  • Everything is fleeting.  These moments will be gone soon.  So breathe.  Stop.  Be.  Perhaps that’s where the golden memory maker is…

As I write this, it seems that it all comes down to one thing:  Being Present.  When I look at the moments in my life that were golden, it was when I was present and aware of the miracle of now.  Or it was realized after it passed, as I look at pictures and reminisce that moment and how perfect it was… and most likely while I was in it, I was probably distracted from the gift of it.  Maybe I was wrapped up in work, or perhaps I was worried about some stress in my life.  Or maybe I was planning for the future.  In fact, when you think about it, most of our present moments are caught up in longing for something from the past, or worrying/planning for something in the future.  And in so doing, we miss LIVING.  We miss being present.

In the last 24 hours there were also other moments.  Like when my 1 year old wraps his tiny long arms around my neck and gives me a tiny squeeze.  Or when my 3 year old is repeating things I say to her as she plays with her paw patrol, saying things like “be careful!  you don’t want to get hurt!” as she mothers them.  Or taking a minute to stare into the face of one of them, and say “I love you!”  Or laugh about nothing in general.  Or scream in delight as we chase them after a bath to get their jammies on.  Or when music is playing and food is cooking and we’re living the mundane routine life, and I capture that moment with them all siting at the table, realizing that it one day will be a golden moment to reminisce back upon.  Yes these are the moments.  This is the life…

Yes, so many times we are not present to the gift of NOW. That, ultimately, is what my kids are teaching me lately.  To live in the present moment.  To be ALIVE RIGHT NOW.  The lessons will continue to come, but that has been one way that my kids have been raising me lately.  And, with that, my kids just woke up from their nap…so I’m off to practice the presence of NOW living…

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“It’s all gonna burn anyways..” “Well, at least you’re alive…” It’s interesting to hear what people say or what we even say to ourselves when going through a crisis.  Many times we may be trying to make ourselves or others feel better, but does it really help?  Some of these things can be helpful. But is it possible that some things are not?  So if you’ve ever wondered “what do I say in this situation?”  Keep reading!

Here are some things that are said that can come across as “off” in a crisis situation:

“It’s all gonna burn anyways…”

(Although this may seem like it is a comforting reminder, it really isn’t.  As we grieve the sentimental pieces of our life story, of our community, of our childhood history, saying “it’s all gonna burn anyways” actually feels like a propulsion into deeper depression, and a hopelessness of why even have a story?  Why even create a home space?  This is probably not the intent, but this is what that message can lead towards.)

“Well, at least you’re alive…”

(This is one I’ve heard myself saying, too.  And it is a TRUE fact!  So grateful for life!  But it also seems to negate the fact that there is still grief surrounding the things that are lost.  The pictures.  The childhood crafts.  The things that are not replaceable.  And it makes that grief feel less than, and like it shouldn’t be cried over because at least there is life still to be lived.  But it’s not an easy fix to suddenly feel “happy”.  There is still valid sadness to be expressed about things lost.  Because many of those things were the evidence of our lives lived.  And now that evidence is gone, except for in our memory.)

“This world is not our home…”

(This statement is so untrue, as my husband pointed out.  This world IS our home.  It was given to us by God at the Garden of Eden, as our home, and that we should take care of it and have pride in it, etc.  So when we lose a part of the purpose we were created for, to make a home, to settle and take care of the little place of the world we find ourselves and call home, we feel that loss, and that grief.  And then to be told that this world is not our home…well, yes it is!  And it will be again when the earth is made new after the 2nd Coming.  So it is ok to feel sadness at the loss of this Creation.)

“Everything happens for a reason…”

(This is a somewhat marred reaction of what appears to be encouragement.  Some things happen, and there is not a reason for it, other than a cause-and-effect reason.  Some things are just a result of living in a broken world, not because God is orchestrating some greater thing at the cost of our tragedies.  I believe God can bring something out of our brokenness, but this does not mean that He causes it.   He weeps with those that weep.)

“God works all things together for His glory…”

(This is a true statement, too.  But c’mon: timing is everything.  When an entire town is pretty much wiped off the face of the earth in 12 hours by an inferno, the last thing anyone wants to hear is “well, God works all things together for His glory” – as if He needed this catastrophe to occur in order to reveal His glory.  That’s just gross.)

“Now you have freedom to go anywhere in the world…”

(This is true, to some extent.  However, there may be complicated factors, such as jobs, or health care issues, or physical limitations.  There may be the emotional ties to the region which makes it hard for someone to just pick up and move.  This, too, needs to be grieved.)

Then there are some phrases that have been helpful in the midst of this tragedy.  Here are some the most helpful things I’ve heard that are said and unsaid:

“I’m so sorry…”

(Enough said.  So am I.  This simple phrase carries so much comfort with it, as it states and acknowledges the fact that this new reality is not the way things are supposed to be.  This new reality is not normal and it is grieved by more than just the ones facing it.)

“I don’t know what to say…”

(I love this one, because it’s so honest and so open and tends to have a feeling of holding the space with all of us.  Because frankly, we don’t know what to say, either.  So you are automatically entering into our grief with us.)

“What do you need?…”

(Many times we don’t know what we need just yet, but just the question gives permission to express what we are feeling and experiencing, and in so doing, it reminds us of the fact that we are still empowered individuals that are currently in a powerless situation.  But that question reminds us that we have a little bit of power left:  the power to express ourselves and the power of our friends and neighbors who have our back.)

“How can I help?..”

(This simple question shows that you care, and although most won’t take you up on how you can help, that question speaks volumes that you are aware that this situation is beyond comprehension, and that you want to be present in the midst of this disaster.)

“I can’t imagine…”

(This is a powerful statement, because none of us could have imagined this would happen three weeks ago.  And happen to an entire town, let alone one family household.  So this statement shows that you get it, and that you are not trying to sweep the devastation under the rug, but that you are willing to sit with us in the ashes.)

“How are you doing?”  

(This question is a wild card, as it can be good or bad: it’s all in how it is asked.  This question is maybe good for later, like maybe a couple months down the road when most people have their feet under them.  This question is not a bad one, but it is used all the time in everyday life, and so then to ask it in regards to a catastrophic event, the person getting asked doesn’t really know how to answer in a short response.  People a lot of times don’t really know how they are doing to give a good answer, so if the person asking it genuinely wants to know, it can be an excellent question to help walk us through our emotions, or just be present to what we are feeling without giving a spiritual cliche band-aid response.)

Give a Hug

(Someone the other day just came up and gave me a hug.  That’s it.  They said something else, like “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here…”  That was enough.  That was powerful and acknowledged exactly what I needed at the time.  It didn’t ask for any details to be repeated, nor did it try to “fix” my experience with spiritual flowery words.  It was presence in my day.  It was simple, yet so powerful).

What have you found to be helpful or not so helpful in your crisis situation?

As we all continue to navigate the different catastrophes we find ourselves in, as we all continue to walk thru the valley of the shadow of death, may we be present to each other.  May we hold the space for ourselves, as well as with each other, giving each other and ourselves permission to grieve.  May we not take a “spiritual bypass” around the sacred walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  May we remember that it is in that valley that we encounter true healing and meet the Presence of the One Who has and will walk through that valley with us.  May we not be afraid to grieve and to hold the space for those around us as they grieve. May we remember that there is incredible power in grieving, and it can be one of the most sacred spaces to find yourself or others in.

 

Monday night, it was my job to pick up the Olive Garden takeout for our impromptu Thanksgiving meal at the nursing home my dad is staying at in Gridley.  Olive Garden, not your traditional Thanksgiving food, but my dad requested that, and with permission from the staff at his new location, we had a date in the nursing home’s dining room.  The place is nice.  Quiet, small, and no urine smell.  It’s farther out from the rest of the family, but it was the closest place due to the evacuations from the Camp Fire.  My dad’s previous location had been in the living room of our house on Boquest Blvd in Paradise.  The house that is now ashes.

So while my mom, my brother and my niece all met with their insurance people to talk about coverage, I got everyone’s order and picked up our meals at the Chico Olive Garden before making my way to Gridley.  My other brother and I had to suddenly make one more stop for diapers after my 3 year old had a little accident.  So I popped on over to Walmart in Chico, to grab some diapers.

After parking the car, I could see the meals being cooked and hear the distant strum of a guitar being played at the Paradise Fire Refugee tent city that resides in the Walmart parking lot.  With tents rippling in the cool night breeze, I made my way inside to grab the diapers.  It was weird in there.  Christmas music playing over the speakers, as if nothing was different from a normal week of Thanksgiving.  Yet we all looked at each other.  You could see the tired eyes.  You could feel the weight of worry as you looked at the arms and legs of people.  One couple walked around with their dog in their arms, the look of shock still in their eyes.  And the cruel irony of the Christmas song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was being played overhead.  This is the new reality right now in this land of displacement.  Even though the calendar says its Thanksgiving, and Christmas is around the corner, its like we’re all watching from a glass room while others experience the festivities and normalcy.  Its as if there is a bubble of another reality. And that bubble is called displacement. That bubble is called survival.  That bubble is called tragedy.

With a heavy heart from the reality of the pain I had seen walking the aisles of Walmart, and with that Christmas song now stuck in my head, I returned to the car.  We made our way out to Gridley, in the hopes of bringing some semblance of family and Thanksgiving cheer to my ailing father. After the 30 minute drive, my brother and I set up the take out food containers on one of the small circular tables in the nursing home dining hall.  While my own babies cried due to their exhaustion, we set up chairs in a semi circle so that my dad would also be in the circle when he would come wheeled in.

Slowly my family trickled in, exhausted after hours of deliberations with an insurance agent (that will be later post).  My dad was wheeled in, and we said our blessing for the food, and began to partake of our feast.  Due to the long car ride, the breadsticks got damp from the condensation inside the bag, and the pasta was luke warm, but we were together.  We were in our family huddle.  One of the traditions in my family, like most, is to say what we’re thankful for on Thanksgiving.  One brother shared that he’s grateful for memories of all the places that we lost.  Many of us shared how grateful we were for the fact that we are all alive.  By the way, there’s something amazing that happens when you hug someone that you thought came that close to death.  It’s like you feel every part of their soul in that embrace. It’s like you see every facet of every year you ever lived with them in one moment.

With the chaos of kids crying and salad getting kicked off the table by my 5 month old, it didn’t really matter cuz we were all together.  It was messy.  It was lukewarm.  It was bittersweet.  But it was real. In some ways it felt like we were going thru the motions.  And in some ways it felt like a beautiful spiritual moment of raw togetherness; a sort of “screw you” to the tragedy and grief of all that has happened.  After a few more extended family arrived, we all were present in this new space, this small nursing home dining room – our substitute for home.  After asking if we had any desert (which I had totally forgot about getting), my dad made an announcement and said how thankful he was for each of us, before being wheeled back into his room.  We remained there and shared and listened to the stories of escape from the fire. We winced as we heard what all the insurance agent had said to my mother before cutting her a stingy check that afternoon.  We felt the same helpless pain of sentimental fragments that are forever gone from each of our stories.  We all still felt the dumbfounded twilight zone reality of no Paradise.  And then, we all began to trickle back to the different places of refuge of each of our displacement.  Chico. Oroville. Bangor. Gridley. Palermo.

This is just one of the thousands of stories of displaced Thanksgivings this year.  But I will say this:  There was something special that happened that night.  After I left that nursing home with my babies, that stale dining room felt a little warmer, had a kind of glow, because we had all been there together, and love had been present.  We had created a tiny sense of home in those few minutes as we held onto each other.  I have a feeling we’ll look back on that memory with a deep sense of awe one day.  But for now, it was a displaced Thanksgiving.

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This is my mom and dad at our “Displaced Thanksgiving” celebration in the Nursing Home

“All of these events are signs of the times, and evidence that Jesus is coming soon…”  These are words and phrases that many of us have heard, especially recently with some of the latest news.  Although there is nothing inherently wrong with these phrases, they seem to carry a very real danger that is seen lived out in the lives of many who profess to be followers of Jesus.

But the 2nd Coming of Christ is such good news, right? So what is the danger of this statement? In short, the danger is that many use this as an unconscious excuse to not get involved, not get their hands dirty in helping those around them.  They keep the concept of Christ’s coming as theology and rhetoric, and do not have any practical ways of what Christ’s message of hope lived out in the real world looks like.  Following Christ and looking forward to His coming becomes mere platitudes with no real-life application.  It becomes a sort of feel-good pat-answer to any crisis at hand.

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Once again, there’s nothing wrong with the message of a soon-coming Savior, but isn’t the Gospel more than that? Isn’t the concept of the Kingdom of God a reality that begins right now, in the way we live our lives everyday?  It is according to Jesus, as He began each parable with the phrase “The Kingdom of God is like…” and then went into discussing what a culture of God’s love looks like right here and right now.  The concept of the 2nd Coming of Christ is so much more than a future event.  Yet so many people treat it as a separate occasion that is the end-all answer to any crisis.  In fact, when someone says, “don’t worry, these are signs of the end of the world!  We should rejoice that we are living in such exciting times…” This is almost a slap-in-the-face for those who are living in horrible situations, situations that maybe you and I were placed on this earth, by God, to help alleviate.

Let’s break this down into a few real scenarios where I have heard this phrase be used:

  • Environmental Issues
    • When those who have a passion about the environment speak out about the importance of recycling, going “green”, etc., sometimes they are met with this phrase “well, Jesus is coming soon, so of course the world is being destroyed…”.  It’s as if those who say this forget the part in Genesis where God commanded us to take care of the earth and the animals, etc. (Genesis 2:15).  In fact, this is perhaps our greatest form of stewardship.  So to use the phrase that Jesus is coming soon, (as if He’ll come quicker because we let the earth go to waste faster), is actually to squander the natural wealth that God has given to us to protect and enjoy.
  • Helping Refugees
    • If anyone has watched the news, you have seen the wave-upon-wave of refugee families fleeing their country, longing for a place of safety where they will not be killed.  You’ve seen the mothers carrying their babies for hundreds of miles, or worse, you’ve seen or heard the stories of hundreds of people drowned at sea in overcrowded boats that have capsized.  When supposed followers of Jesus see this and use the phrase, “see, Jesus is coming soon, and people are being persecuted…” but do nothing to actually help these desperate souls, they are aligning themselves with those from the parable of Jesus, where Jesus says “whatever you didn’t do for the least of these, you didn’t do for Me…” (Matthew 25:45)
    • Those who claim to follow Jesus and then say that we cannot help the refugees because they might be terrorists, forget that Jesus and His family were refugees.  They forget that if you live in the U.S., we all were once refugees.  So to use the phrase “this is a sign that Jesus is coming soon” and they keep going to church and worshiping a “Refugee”, is not this the greatest form of hypocrisy you could have?
  • Racial Violence & Injustice
    • Recently, there was a statement that went out by a church organization that encouraged its members to not get distracted by events happening in our country, but to keep persistent in preaching a soon-coming Jesus.  This statement primarily came out after some of the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement.  Really?  How can we, as followers of God, separate preaching about a God of Love, and not actually show what that Love looks like in public?  How can we proclaim that Jesus is coming soon, but not start to live that reality of His Kingdom now?  How can we claim to worship a man who stood up for the injustices of those who were not being treated as equal, and yet not stand up for our sisters and brothers who are not being treated as equal?  How can we claim “all lives matter” and turn a blind eye to the ways that certain people are not treated as if all lives matter?  And then, if some who do get involved in raising their voices for the inequality of others, they are encouraged by certain churches not to get involved!  How can one claim to follow a God who got His hands dirty with saving our world, but not get their hands dirty in helping to save the communities around us?  How can we claim to be a part of the Body of Christ, but then reject parts of the same body when they are being mistreated?

These have just been a few of the examples I have seen, where the 2nd Coming of Christ has been used as almost an excuse to not get involved, or worse, as a gleeful reminder that it’s just a sign that He’s coming back, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the show of the world falling apart.

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What if certain people throughout history had taken this stance?  What if Esther, who had the courage to go before the King and request safety for her people, had used the phrase, “well, this is a sign that the Messiah is coming soon, so…”?  Would she have still gone before the King?  The whole phrase that comes from that story, “you have been created for such a time as this…” (Esther 4:14) screams the fact that we are meant to be people of action, not people of rhetoric.

What if Martin Luther, who nailed the 95 thesis, would have believed this idea that since “Jesus is coming soon, I don’t have to get involved” – would we even have churches today?  Would there have been a Reformation?  Would we understand what Grace is?

What if Martin Luther King Jr. had believed this misconception, and had thought that the injustices of the 60’s were just a sign that Jesus was coming back, so preach that message even more…would there have been the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the marches?  Would there have been the strides towards equality that he helped start?  As he mentioned in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”,  “…I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid…”  Martin Luther King realized that when we are a follower of God, it means that we live His Kingdom NOW,  and not just merely refer to it as a future event. (To read the entire Letter From a Birmingham Jail, click here).

What if Jesus Himself used this – “well, I’m coming again soon – I don’t need to preach the gospel to the world.  I don’t need to heal this blind man.  I don’t need to train these disciples.”  Obviously that’s ludicrous!  Then why is it so acceptable for us as followers of God to not get our hands dirty?  Why is it so strange to get involved and actually love people in action and deed?  Why is it crazy to step out and actually be the church to our communities?

What if we started living like the Kingdom of God was real?

What if, instead of saying we are living in the end times, we actually lived like today was our end time – our last day, and got involved in changing the lives of others?

What if we actually believed what Jesus said, what we would DO greater things than He did?  (John 14:12)

What if we began to believe that perhaps Jesus created us for such a time as this?

What if we began to realize that maybe Jesus doesn’t want us to talk so much about His 2nd Coming – but maybe He wants us to live it out?

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