Tuesday, December 29, 2015

In the Bleak Midwinter

Note: Not all my posts contain reflections on my Christian faith. This one does. A gentle heads up in case this is not your cup of tea.

“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;  snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,  in the bleak midwinter, long ago.”

Or today. Not long ago.

Today it is as exactly as described.

Dark. Cold. Grey. The wind mean, moaning for hours.

Snow is falling.

Branches crack against the house.

Ice forms on the ground.

It is bleak. Very bleak.

And welcome. At least for me. It is a great excuse to stay inside with a good book or have a  netflix marathon with your mom.

A time to pause. To take stock. Or something like that.

My thoughts wandering around, and then, without warning, I cry. Small gentle tears.

It gets me this winter. Or gets to me.

About a month or so ago I wrote about embracing fall and moving on into winter.

Well here it is.

Maybe it’s the New Year approaching. Or maybe this bleak midwinter makes me reflective and melancholy.

No hiding from your heart here. No distractions.

Just snow.

Hauntingly beautiful as it is.

A soul pauses.

Tears come again.

By now most of you know this year wasn’t my favorite. That my family is dealing with hard things. That my heart took a beating. That many questions remain unanswered.

Get in line I say. Yada Yada. That is nothing compared to what others went through. What many are still going through. Some dear friends.

In this quiet desolate place I remember that.

And something else.

A word that has been slowly creeping up on me for months now. I saw it everywhere. It kept leaping up unexpectedly. Refusing to let me go. Unearthed hope in a buried heart that refused sunlight.  Knocked around in my innards. Touched my cheek in the morning. My lips at night.

Immanuel.

God with us.

God with me.

In my prayers, thoughts, reflections, readings and conversations there was one clear word that branded itself into my flesh.

God is with me.  

He keeps saying that. Over and over again.

Which is good, I learn by repetition.

During the heartache, trials, tribulations, questions and now winter, He is with me.

Immanuel.

What Christmas is all about.

Or supposed to be. By now, no doubt, you may be suffering from a eggnog hangover. Or tired of the piety speak of what Christmas is all about.

Forgive me. I am going to be speak too.

I don’t usually like the holidays. I could Scrooge you for a few paragraphs as to why, but I won’t. It is mostly about stress, busyness, loneliness, keeping up with the Jones, materialism and fake a face of cheer.

Never about Jesus, or Immanuel, as I will call Him.

Now, truth be told, I had a lovely Christmas this year.

There were concerts, parties, great memories and an abundance of joy.

And something else.

It is fitting that as I write this my mom pops her head in and asks if I want the Christmas lights turned on.

I am sitting in the dark.

Sure I say.  

A song plays in the background “ Breath of heaven, lighten my darkness, be forever near me.”

And then there is light.

Not just for me, for the world.

Christmas reminded me of that. I don’t think I had forgotten, I just didn’t remember.

Or maybe I never really knew.

The wise men knew. They followed a star.

At the Christmas eve service this year the pastor said it was fitting that is was a star these mysterious men from the east followed. He said that on this earth darkness never encroaches in on light, it is always light encroaching its way on the dark.

Yes, that’s right.

The shepherds knew.

You may say they had it easy with angels and all. I am glad they had it easy. Someone had to.
I am glad it was the lowly. Sounds about right. I am glad the angels shouted, “Glory to God in the Highest.”

I want to shout it too.

Mary didn’t shout. She pondered.

She knew. So did Joseph.

What brave people they were. God doesn’t always make things easy for the faithful. Easy is never a part of the bargain. Miracles are though.

So is grace.

Grace for a wretch like me.

I woke up on this bleak midwinter morning with a song in my head. It took me awhile to get it from the background to the front of my thoughts. But when I did, this is what I heard:

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

I am God’s treasure? Seems highly unlikely. And yet that is what Immanuel says.

That is what Christmas says.

That He came to this winter of a planet as a vulnerable, helpless baby, where sin, death and darkness reign and decided to be with us.

He chose to put it all on the line.  And later would put it all on the cross.

He finished it. Christmas marks the beginning of the end of pain, suffering and death.

A light from heaven lit up the world.

Still does.

I am reminded of this light this year. Especially this year, when words became empty and fears took form. When I wanted to cry and scream and run and hide at times.

Immanuel was there. With me. With us.

Christmas. Real Christmas.

Isn’t that what we need?

God to come into our wars, destruction, sorrows and fears and says I am with you?

To hear we aren’t alone.  And not only that, we have purpose and meaning. A hope and future.

And Loved. We are completely wholeheartedly loved.

Merry Christmas.

Glory to God in the Highest.

Amen.

The song goes on.

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

A soul pauses again.

Do I? Do I know that with all of my heart? I am not sure.

I know I am grateful. I should give you a gift. A Christmas present.  

What can I offer you? Nothing that I have is worthy of that kind of sacrifice.  Nothing comes close. Nothing that a saved wretch can offer her king. Her savior.

I can’t repay you. I know I can’t.

Maybe I should just ask.

What do you want for Christmas? …

What did you say?

You talked so gently I missed it.

What?

My heart?

I couldn’t have heard you right.

Immanuel, you paid my ransom and in return you ask for my heart?

What do you want with that broken thing?  

How about Frankincense? Or my Gold chain? I am not sure where I can find Myrrh but I will find out.

Shoot, I will even learn a tune on a drum if it makes you happy.

My heart huh?

Parts of it I can give to you no problem.  The shiny, new, faithful, loving, all of the 1st Corinthian 13 and fruits of the spirit stuff. We can stop there.

Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart. I will praise the Lord with my whole heart. I will give thanks with my whole heart.

We can’t stop there.

All of it?

The parts that got broken and beaten and battered and hated you sometimes?

The parts that are so disappointed? So fearful?

Every single dark corner, nook, cranny, old dreams, new ones, disappointments, loved ones, cherished memories, dirty thoughts, envies, angers, compassions, graces, dreams?

The best and worst parts of me?

A soul pauses.

Time for the gift exchange.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

I didn’t have time to wrap it. But here you go.

You smile. You love it. It is just what you wanted.

We sit side by side listening to the wind.

In this bleak mid winter He is with me.

And He didn’t stop there.

But this I know with all my heart. His wounds have paid my ransom.

No tears this time. Just awe.

My dad’s music plays in the background from his office. It is Kenny G. Roll your eyes if you like but I happen to love some of his Christmas songs.

I glance at the Christmas lights.

I smile.

My broken, imperfect grateful heart full.

A saxophone plays. “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

Thank you Mr. G.

I did.

I will.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Is this seat taken?

Get out!

Right now.

Don’t just sit there!

Run, run like the wind. 

Don’t pass go. Don’t collect $200. (Don’t go to jail either.)

It’s not worth it.

Let me shout it at us, IT’S NOT WORTH IT!

Oh no, we aren’t listening. 

It is too late.

We have become what no one should be.

A seat-filler. 

Or, in other terms, a safety net. A bench warmer. A back up plan. An in case of emergency plan. An insurance policy. The runner up. The silver medalist. The perpetual number 2 or 3 on the list. Pigeon holed. Put in the “friend” zone. On constant standby.

Some of you know exactly what I am talking about. You were burned before. Maybe you are still burning.

For those that have no idea what I am talking about stick around because if you haven’t ever been a seat-filler my guess is that you have sat next to one.

Before I go on let me explain what I mean.

I used to enjoy watching award shows.

While I watched, I laughed at the sometimes-funny jokes, enjoyed the musical numbers and scanned the audience.

The seats were always filled. Always.

Don’t celebrities have to use the restroom? Is that part of the reason why they are famous? You need good looks and camel-like bladders?

It was a mystery.

Then one night back in college, one of my friends in the dorm came back all decked out.  She said she had just come back from an awards show in which she was an official seat-filler.

She stood off in the sides and when a celebrity went up to present an award, scoot out early or use the restroom, she was escorted to their seat and sat down. She wasn’t allowed to talk to the “talent,” her job was to keep the space occupied until the celebrity came back. She was basically ignored by George Clooney.

And that is what I mean by seat-filler. You fill the space next to someone until the “real” person comes along. (This is different than the park bench relationship, which is mutual.)

The seat-filler is an awful place to be despite the clothes you may get to wear and whom you may get to sit next to.

You are temporary. Someone who looks the part but isn’t the part.

And it is very common.

Why?

I think a reason so many of us get caught up in this false relationship is simple.

We don’t want to be alone.

We would rather be with another person who isn’t exactly what we want or doesn’t love us back than be by ourselves.

This kind of relationship is not based on truth.

This phenomenon happens in nearly every kind of relationship. Romantic, co-worker, friends, families.

But for the sake of time, I will stick to the romantic kind, but please know, the same principals apply to all types. 

Here is what it looks like in a romantic context: Two people are friends. One person, the seat- filler, has romantic feelings for the other person that may or may not be expressed (or in some cases may or may not be known). The other person, the wanted-one, does not. These two people will spend a lot of time together. Will enjoy each other’s company. Will look like and sometimes act like a couple.

There is a problem. They aren’t a couple.

The seat-filler will always go above and beyond to express their love and affection for the wanted-one by being totally thoughtful and doing the dirty work. They will do things like buy presents just because, making sure their car has gas in it, being a shoulder to cry on, an airport picker upper, a therapist and the go to hang out buddy when the wanted-one is bored.   The wanted-one allows this to happen because it is flattering, they like the attention. 

The seat-fillers are usually taken for granted. Despite this they will perform their duties with relish. Hoping that if they hang on long enough, the wanted-one will have a change of heart.

Cue the romantic comedy finale, probably either in the rain, in a restaurant, airport or sporting event.

Kiss! And scene…

Except 99.9% of the time, that never happens.

The story ends badly.

Here is what really happens.

The seat-filler tries to make plans with the wanted-one. (Because the seat-filler is always the one making plans.) And suddenly the wanted-one is busy. All the time. And then poof! They disappear.

At first the seat-filler wonders why they were kicked out of their seat. Something isn’t right. Things seemed to suddenly change. And then it dawns on them. The wanted-one found the person who they really wanted to fill the seat.

Or this happens. These same two friends who spend a good deal amount of time together will have an awkward conversation someday. The seat-filler will work up their courage to express their feelings…

And get shut down.

Sometimes tactfully, sometimes not.

(In my case, I had one guy not bother to sit up during the conversation. He remained in a reclined position. Ouch.)

Oh yes, that is why I am writing this, for years and years I was the queen of the seat-fillers.

I spent so much time in the friend zone they named a city after me. It’s called FalseHopeCarrieVille And it thrived for years.

I can’t tell you how many times I sat across from guy friends and wondered what I was missing. Why we could laugh and talk for hours at a time and then they would tell me about their latest girl problems. Or keep telling me how great I was but then date girls who treated them poorly. 

I would beat my head up against a wall when guys would say how comfortable they were around me and then complain about how high maintenance or needy their girlfriend was.

How they would smile and laugh with me and then turn into these sullen, whipped boys around their crushes whom they could never quite please.

I would be dumbfounded. Frustrated. Flabbergasted.

If I heard, “You’re such a good friend” one more time I would lose it.

Hello!! Why not me? Give me a shot!

Didn’t they know how much more fun we would have? How much more I would enjoy them? How sweet I would be to them? How good I would be to them? How much I try to be a good person in general? How much I would love them?

Friends with benefits sounded great to me. Make it official and we are golden.

It was never golden though. That was for the people on the stage. Not for me. Not for seat-fillers.

Well, FalseHopeCarrieVille is barren now. No life there at all.

And good riddance. 

Here is the stone cold hard lesson I needed to learn. 

And what I hope to pass on to someone who is sitting in a taken seat.

I was the one who sat down.

I was the one who let them treat me that way.

I was the one that decided that the best that I could get was less than the real deal. 

I let someone’s opinion of me matter more than my own hopes, dreams and desires. 

I let someone else define my worth.

And when you do that, you are willing to settle to be a seat-filler.

And guess what, the wanted-ones can smell that a mile away. And they act accordingly.

How about another cold hard truth?

Maybe they just didn’t like me that way. (I still think I would have made some of them happier but whatever.) For reasons shallow or deep, their heart didn’t connect with mine.

And that’s okay.

But what is no longer okay is for all of us to keep doing this to each other. (Chances are most of us have been both.)

It is time to stop.

If you are the wanted-one in the relationship do the situation a favor. Have the courage to back away. Don’t take advantage of someone. If you care about that person release them. Think about the other person more than yourself and let them go. Be honest with what you want. What you really want.

If you are the seat-filler…

GET OUT OF THE SEAT!

Do you hear me?

GET OUT OF THE SEAT!

Put on your tux or your dress. Walk around like the low maintenance, highly enjoyable, sweetheart, wonderful catch that you are.

Be respectful. Tell the truth. Don't settle for scraps. 

Just because the wanted-one didn’t want you doesn’t mean you aren’t wanted, it just may not be by them.

Here is the big take away though.

You are wantable!

You are the wanted-one too!

Now get up and act like it.

Show everyone you can be a nice (guy/girl) and give kisses that will knock their socks off. And if you don’t know how, show them that you will enthusiastically learn how. 

Strut your stuff.

Find your own seat.

And when you sit down and someone comes and asks you if the seat next to you is taken be honest with yourself and with them.

Remember: A whole person by themselves is better than a half person in a half relationship.

You deserve to be the celebrity.

Join me and make a pledge to never be a seat-filler again.

Take that Clooney.

Monday, November 16, 2015

I hope you Dance

 I was sitting in the car this week and one of my mom’s favorite songs came on my playlist. It moved me to tears. 

That happens a lot lately.

The lyrics danced around in my heart (which was appropriate, given the song.)

“And if you get the choice to sit it out or dance. I hope you dance.”

Earlier in the week I had a random out-of–the blue craving to go line dancing. No idea why. Just did.

That happens a lot lately too.  (Random life cravings, not line dancing.)

A friend mentioned a music video featuring a memorizing dancer. I watched the video and was memorized too.

The song  “Shut up and Dance” finds itself stuck in my head a lot. 

I got in a conversation with teenagers about how white girls dance. (Usually by limiting most movements to the upper body shoulder region.)

And finally today, while I was out and about, I heard my mom’s song again over an intercom.

I don’t know about you, but when a subject gets brought up that many times in a week I want to pay attention.

Dancing. To move about rhythmically to music.

I am not much of a dancer. I have rhythm, which helps, and if the electric slide comes on you will find me getting my boogie woogie on out on the dance floor.

But in the same way people save singing for the shower I mostly save dancing for the car.

We all have memories of dancing. The first ones generally involve a living room and your parents. Followed by….

The horror.

It is 6th grade and I am in gym class. Those two things alone make me want to invent time travel just to hug my 12-year-old self.

The teacher announces that our next activity is not going to be floor hockey; instead it will be square dancing.

And we have to find our own partners. Gulp.

After a lot of pre-teen drama we all did and for the next 6 weeks it was a whole lot of looking down at our shuffling feet, red faces, screeching music and sweaty palms.

And then came middle school dances, then high school, then prom…

I do have some dancing experiences outside of the car and gymnasiums.

I tried dancing ballet when I was five and quit after a recital. We were all so full of fear that as the song Old McDonald had a Farm began to play instead of dancing like farm animals we did a solid interpretation of deer staring into headlights. 

I danced in musical theater in elementary, middle and high school.

I may or may not have given in to the line dancing craving on more than one occasion.

I took salsa lessons a while back, still have the shoes.

But mostly, I am like most people, nervous to dance in public.

And there is good reason for that.

Dancing is ridiculous.

Not the professional Nutcracker ballet kind. The everyday Joe is dancing at his cousin’s wedding kind.

Think about it.

On what other occasions do we move and shake like that? None.

When is it ever appropriate to get that close to another person in public moving that way? Never. Never in any other context is that acceptable behavior. Can you can imagine what would happen if someone started dancing at grocery store?

A friend of mine and I were recently having a conversation at a wedding.

We both decided that if aliens were to come down and visit earth there would be a few things that would make no sense to them at all. (I know, an alien conversation at a wedding?) 

I believe we mentioned money as one, the red carpet another and the third was dancing.

Alien log: Humans appeared to be going about as normal until a certain sound came on. They appeared to be under some kind of influence as they rushed together on a platform and moved in a most peculiar manor, changing movement with the changing sound. Some sounds produced synchronized and repetitive movements. At times, they danced in pairs. Such movement is not observed in any other known human activity.

Okay dancing is weird and we all have awkward memories when we were younger but it still doesn’t explain while I was moved to tears sitting in the car.

Why am I dancing around the subject?

Let me practice a few steps for a second.

If I think about it, it is not just about the act of dancing. As my mom’s song suggests, it is what dancing represents, the emotions and requirements that come with it.

Dancing requires courage, energy, action and enthusiasm. You can practice for a long time and still not be good, so just go for it. You generally don’t do it alone. You are watched.

Dancing is about engaging. Expressing yourself. Learning steps. Being put on the spot. Looking ridiculous. Having fun. Navigating awkward moments. Being free. Being vulnerable. Being clueless. Being together.  

Dancing is about slowing down. Speeding up. Using all of yourself. Stepping on people’s toes. Having bad partners. Having good ones. Falling in love. Learning something new. Taking lessons. Pulling muscles. Getting sweaty. Focusing. Committing to it. Wild abandonment. Celebration.

It demands you be here. Be present.

And unless you are Justin Timberlake, it is risky.

It requires you come out of your comfort zone in some way. 

Dancing is not just about listening, it’s about action.

It’s about being moved. 

It’s life.

Hence the tears.

Go back and substitute living instead of dancing.  It applies.

Living requires courage, energy, action and enthusiasm. You can practice for a long time and still not be good, so just go for it. You generally don’t do it alone. You are watched.

Living is about engaging. Expressing yourself. Learning steps. Being put on the spot. Looking ridiculous. Having fun. Navigating awkward moments. Being free. Being vulnerable. Being clueless. Being together.  

Living is about slowing down. Speeding up. Using all of yourself. Stepping on people’s toes. Having bad partners. Having good ones. Falling in love. Learning something new. Taking lessons. Pulling muscles. Getting sweaty. Focusing. Committing to it. Wild abandonment. Celebration.

Living demands you be here. Be present.

And unless you are Justin Timberlake, it is risky.

It requires you come out of your comfort zone in some way. 

Living is not just about listening, it is about action.

It’s about being moved.

The song is not about dancing at all.

It’s about life. 

That is why I was moved in the car. My mom’s song. The song she wants for me and my sister and brother. (And knowing my mom she wants it for everyone.)

When I hear that song now, I hear it as my mother’s prayer.

When you or someone very close to you faces something very serious, it changes things.

You realize that the music in this life is not going to last forever. The song is going to end.

The question becomes: are you going to sit life out or are you going to get up on the dance floor and live it?

I am not even suggesting that dancing has to be loud and crazy. Some of us can sky dive and backpack through India. Others might spend a weekend in silence.

It may mean reading a book you love, smelling the ocean at least once a month, getting a degree, getting in shape. Seeking forgiveness. Forgiving. Telling someone you think they are amazing. Letting go of the past. Loving.

However you are created to move, move.

It doesn’t matter if you look weird or you haven’t found a partner yet or you think you are bad at it.

Take lessons. Pull others up to come with you if you need to.

But do it. Even if you are on the “dance to the beat of your own music” type.

Rock that funky chicken.

Own that electric slide.

Impress with the cabbage patch.

Dare to tango.

Be completely you. Don’t leave anything out.

Leave it all out on the floor.

But dance, for goodness sake, dance.

For me, I will dust off the salsa shoes. Put square dancing and deer in headlights behind me.

I am a pretty decent line dancer.  So maybe it’s time for a waltz? 

By the way, the tears came at this line in the song, “May you never take one single breath for granted.”

Thank you mama, this one is for you.

Can anyone hum a waltz?

One, two, three, One, two, three… 

Song referenced is " I Hope you Dance." By Lee Ann Womack