Monday, June 29, 2015

I surrender: waving the white flag

There is a scene in the movie Indian Jones and the Last Crusade. Spoilers ahead if you have not seen it. 

After many years and obstacles the Holy Grail is found by Indiana. There is a cost though, his father was shot in the process. The Grail is used to save him. It does. It can also give eternal life but there is a catch. The Grail cannot leave the place it was found.  Indiana tries to take it with him anyway. He is hanging on to a cliff with his father clinging on to one of his hands and the other hand reaching for the Grail. He almost has it but doesn't realize how close to death he is. And then his father says, "Indiana, let it go."

Easy for Sean Connery to say. 

Not so easy for us. Well, I shouldn't speak for you. 

Not easy for me. 

To let go. To relinquish control. To set someone or something free. 

To surrender. 

To wave the white flag. 

To release. 

Now this theme of letting go has surrounded us all for awhile thanks to the marketing genius of Disney and the power anthem from the movie Frozen. And if you don’t know what I am talking about consider yourself lucky. In Disney land letting go is a final victory. A big musical crescendo.

But I don’t think that letting go is that easy. 

It just doesn’t look like an animation sing a long.

It is hard.

For some letting go is a situation that you are making worse instead of just letting things play out. 

For some that means letting go of your terms and conditions. 

For some it is a person or a job that you want so badly that it hurts but you know there is nothing you can do. 

For some it is the death of a dream. Something you wanted badly but it didn't pan out. 

Or the death of a relationship, or special time in life. 

Or you lost someone really special. 

Or a desire. Surrendering the very thing we want most of all. 

That last one is hard. You may have years of yearning behind you. Years of wrestling, years of hoping only to come to the end of story and find the prince didn't come. You just have a shoe in your hand and bits of pumpkin on your shirt. 

You have watched others have a baby, get the job, get the relationship, get the house, the body, the money, the promotion, the good fortune, the dream, the Holy Grail.

You were left at the station.

Nothing happened. 

So what happens when nothing happens?

I remember that tonight. I am sitting on a park bench near the place I went to college. I came here to remember something that I lost. Although I probably never really had it if I were honest.  And years ago I had to let it go. And I did. But it hurt. 

Like hell. 

And all these years later specifics have changed by the desire has not.

The dream remains deferred. 

Now I know there are those out there that are screaming at the screen saying Wait!" The story isn't over yet. There is still hope!"

Yes, you are right. There is the George Bailey version of this story. Where you get to the end and realize you have a wonderful life. That the greatest thing you can ever really want you already have. It is a nice warm story. It is about illumination. Gratitude. 

And I know the other story too. The couple that finally stopped trying conceived. The time when she or he stopped looking and that is when he or she showed up. The rejection at work that lead to the dream job. The let go that lead to the wow. 

But here is the catch. To really let go, you have to let go of those stories too. Because sometimes, it is hard to admit but true, sometimes those stories don't happen. 

Sometimes things happen that shouldn't happen and the things that should happen don't. 

We live in a world of Charleston, Syria, disease, war, brokenness. 

We live in a world where justice doesn't always show her face this side of heaven. 

Where many follow after a rabbi who is called the man of sorrows and who died young. 

Where many people fought good fights and died without ever making it into the promise land.

We live in a world of suffering. Of pain. Of sorrow.

And in this place is the hardest thing to let go of. 

The why.

To let go, to fully surrender to God or that which is greater than you, is to let go of why. 

We want some sort of answer so we can heal. Some sort of reason. We really do. 

And if we let go of the why we may get the happy ending or the reason. 

We may not. 

We aren't guaranteed any outcome or an answer. 

Sometimes the answer is silence. 

We need to let go of the question.

To let go is awful and feels like hollowing wind ripping through your heart. It is hollow. The thing that was taking up space is gone. 

You can choose not to let go. There is a problem though. 

What you are holding on to is already gone. 

Which brings me back to the bench. 

I need to let go of something else too. Something I thought would happen but it didn't. Something that I thought would turn out well but it hasn't. 

I remember the day I began this journey. The dream given was unexpected. Out of the blue. I was so disoriented that I even fell and sprained my finger. To this day I can't make a full fist with my left hand. The middle finger appears to be now slightly deformed. Unable to bend properly. A tangible reminder of a specific dream that didn't happen. (Is it ironic it is the middle finger?) It is a wound of a battle that I lost. I had to wave the white flag. 

And more than that, not only do I need to let go of the specific dream. I need to let go of the dream itself. 

If I am hanging on, how am I ever going to learn how to trust? 

If I am hanging on, how am I ever going to receive any gift? Whether it is the gift I want or not? 

If I am hanging on how am I going to keep on journeying wherever the path may lead if I don't keep up with the shepherd? 

Let it go my father says. 

So here is to flag waving. The I surrender kind. 

Here is to the tears that follow. 

And there are tears. Really big fat ugly tears. 

And sorrow. 

Funny though, as I sit here on this park bench.

I just heard church bells in the distance. 

What are the bells for? A wedding? A funeral? Just the passage of time? Are they mournful or hopeful? Or both? 

Looks like I have to get off the bench to go find out. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Exit please

 I don’t want lemonade.

You know that saying when life gives you lemons make lemonade?

But what if you don’t want lemonade? Or the lemons for that matter.  I am a lime girl myself. Someone put a lime in a ginger ale once for me and thought I went to soda heaven.

Lemonade is fine I guess. But it’s not what I want.

I want out.

Let me explain so you don’t worry.

Ever been on a roller coaster or an amusement park ride and you sit down and hear the click and think… what in the world did I get myself into? You want out. Right then. 

You search frantically for an escape. You debate whether to call the person back that just put their hand down near your nether region and checked whatever flimsy contraption is keeping you locked in. By the time you crane your neck to get their attention it is too late. The hiss sounds and you are on your way.

And then you ride the ride, and sometimes it feels great and other times it’s terrible. And the funny thing is you never know which is which until it is done. 

Or it could be a ride that you say you survived and you are proud of your accomplishment but you kind wished you never rode it in the first place and you certainly don’t want to ride it again.

That is life sometimes isn’t it? You are not sure if something will work out until you ride the ride.

It could be great, or hard, or sad. Or both.

Riding a rollercoaster is a nice metaphor. It has a distinctive beginning, middle and end. And the worst that happens is a woozy stomach.

But what about this?

You are in pain. Something really hard happened and you want out. It is an emergency exit kind of out. The kind where you can’t sit still out. You are stuck. You are lost. Or sad. Or angry. Or brokenhearted. Or baffled. Or hurting.  Or helpless. Or lonely. Or depressed. Or anxious. Or… fill in the blank.

And you don’t know how it is going to end. You want to have hope. You want to drink a tall glass of lemonade on a hot summer’s day. But you are not sure you can stomach it.

Or to put it another way.

What happens when life doesn’t hand you lemons it chucks them at your face? And not just one, but repeatedly, chucks them in your face.

And we are supposed to make lemonade?

I know people who say everything happens for a reason.  What I think they really mean is that sometimes bad things happen and we don’t know why but we sure hope it is for a good purpose or at least something good can come from it.

Something.

But what happens before the something happens?

What happens in these moments?

When you wake up in the morning and immediately feel that pain come rushing over you. And you think to yourself, oh my goodness, that wasn’t a dream. It happened. (Whatever “it” is and I think most of us have had our “its.”)

When your goal becomes make it through the day.

When you swing through emotions so fast you can’t tell which ones are real.

When you don’t know which direction you should go.

When well-intentioned people make it worse.

When you feel lonely, forgotten or abandoned.

When you want to do something to help and you can’t.

When you become paralyzed by fear because you wonder “what else can go wrong” and then you imagine what else can go wrong and you can’t stop the anxiety train.

When you realize what was is gone and now you have a new normal. 

When you are stalked by regret. 

When you just want an emergency exit.  Or a fast forward button.  Or a rewind.

What do you do?

No seriously, I am asking. What do you do?

Words that come to my mind are: Pray. Hope. Lean on friends. One day at a time. Hang on. Believe. Love. Cry. Bleed. Cry some more. Love some more. Trust. Rest. Breathe in and Breathe out.

Wait.

Oh, that last one.

Waiting can look like gripping the sides of a ride you never wanted to go on in the first place. To make lemonade is simple and hard. Keep holding on.

Waiting can also be sitting alone in the dark. 

Stop. Let me try to put a little lemonade in that last one.

My old pastor years ago gave me something to do while I was going through a difficult time. She told me, “Sit in a dark space. Light a candle. And sit there. Don’t do anything. Don’t say anything. You don’t even have to think of anything just sit there.”

That advice stuck with me. I can’t remember if I actually did it. But I am thinking it might be appealing right now. Light up the darkness. Slice that lemon. Smell the citrus.

Wait.

Sometimes we get the emergency exit. Sometimes the ride stops in the middle and we get to get off. Sometimes we have to ride the whole thing.

And yes, sometimes the ride is one of the best things to ever happen to us.

So, in this place of waiting.

In this place of trusting.

In this place where my prayer is a song lyric that goes “ Cast me gently into morning for the night has been unkind.”

I grit my teeth, hold out my hand and whisper:

“Pass me a glass."

Monday, June 15, 2015

Where is the Fast Forward Button?

Let’s face it. We all live on fast forward. We want what we want when we want it and if we don’t like what is happening we want out.


We don’t like waiting in lines. Commercials. Slow cashiers. Serious monotony. Mundane activities. Long traffic lights. Waiting on test results. Waiting on a decision that is out of your control. 



Waiting to heal.



Just waiting in general.



Do you like to wait? I haven’t met anyone that does. And yet, it is something a lot of us don’t do well. Or at least I don’t.



But there are times in our lives where we know whether by circumstance or intuition or both that we can no longer do what we have been doing. And instead of having an obvious path, the road takes a turn, the sun goes out and we find ourselves in the dark.



What do we do?



Usually, we reach for the remote. Skip to the end please. Forget this “it is about the journey not destination” crap I hear people say.



We start grasping at straws. Or books. Or food. Or other people. Or false hope. Or a false sense of peace. Or anything really. Looking for answers. Looking for comfort. Mostly, just looking. Trying to find something to alleviate the feeling we don’t want to feel.



And what is the feeling?



Loss. Loss of what was.  And maybe fear. Fear of what will be.



Or this nagging suspicion that something isn’t quite right. And it doesn’t go away.



And that can be a very tender very painful place to be.



In those moments words become empty. So do suggestions. Nothing helps. There isn’t an exit. You have a choice, you can either move forward in the dark or you can stay here. You can pretend the pain isn’t there, but it won’t help. In fact, it will only make the journey longer.



Welcome to the Liminal Space. By its definition it is  “ a place where boundaries dissolve a little and we stand there, on the threshold, getting ourselves ready to move across the limits of what we were into what we are to be.”



The inbetween. The place of not yet. The womb. The dark.



There is a rule while we are in this place. While we wait in this big deep breath before creation speaks. The rule is this: allow time for transformation. Resist the remote and listen.



Watch. Wait.



Most of us don’t.



We don’t stop to wade through the muck and mire. We don’t take time to sit with the questions.  We don’t take deep breaths and look around and wonder. We don’t take sabbaticals. We can’t. Our outer world doesn’t allow for it. We are too busy being productive.



So we push things down. And keep going. And if it is not going fast enough, we reach for the remote control.  Get me through this process. Speed it up.



But does that really help? Whenever I have done that, I end up making it worse. I take things into my hands only to look down and see them covered in the mud of good intentions.



Here is my challenge to all of you in the Liminal place.



Stay in it.



I know it is hard. I know it is lonely. Very lonely. But stay there. Because if you speed it up it won’t work.



The right thing at the wrong time is still wrong.



When we think of transformation we usually think of a caterpillar and then see the butterfly.



We forget about the cocoon.



At some point that caterpillar knows that its time has come to become something different.



It enters into the darkness.



Intentionally.



But we all know what is formed in the dark.



Life.



I want a fast forward button sometimes. I want to peak into the future when everything is okay or at least is better. Zip through those awful commercials. Flip to the end of the book to see how it all ends. See the blueprint. See the full picture.



But you know what? I would miss a lot too. I would miss great conversations. Beautiful sunsets. Dinners with friends. Self discoveries. A new perspective. Laughter. A rose blooming. Painful beautiful moments where I feel things deeply but where my heart flies wide open too. And it hurts, but as a wise friend said, “Pain is evidence of healing.” 



So, for all of you in this place of in between, will you wait with me? Will you take heart and wait with me? And watch and listen?



Will you stand with me on this threshold?



Will you hold me back if I try to jump too soon?



And when the time comes will you tell me? Will you give me a push?



Because you know what happens after the wait?



You jump off the cliff.



And fly.

Monday, June 8, 2015

There was something in the air that night

Everytime I hear Leia’s theme from the John Williams Star Wars soundtrack I am moved.


Every time. Without fail.



I watched a tribute to John Williams. (I am a self-described nerd) The narrator described his music this way: “ it goes to every place the heart can reach and the notes can speak.”



That is how I believe music is. It goes places beyond what we can describe.  It is everywhere around us. On the radio. In the showers. In our heads. In our hearts. It transports us. Annoys us. Comforts us. Catches us off guard. Lifts us up. 

Even guides us.


How many times have you been in a situation where you didn’t know what to do? Or where to go? And then you realize that there is song you are humming that points the way?

Music describes us too. Have you ever heard a song on the radio that describes exactly how you are feeling at that moment better than you ever could?



It goes to places that words by themselves can’t go. It fills in the cracks. Gives us hope. Is there for us when the world comes crashing down.



It is primal in nature. What is it in our DNA that lights up when we hear a drum core? Or a harp? Think about it. A harp is a universal sound of peace. I can’t think of any harp battle cries can you?



It rocks us to sleep. Sticks to our hearts.  Dreams with us. Remembers things we have forgotten.



And travels through time.



I am convinced that somewhere between years 15 and 25 of your life you met your music mate. I believe that something in your high school or college heart set itself in place.  It locked itself in your soul and helped formed you into the adult that you are.



Was it the first time you heard “Smells like teen spirit”? Or heard the first few chords of “Smoke on the Water?” Or heard that high trumpet sound to the opening of Star Wars? 

Do you remember your high school crush when “Everything I do I do it for you” plays on an easy listening station? Or smile whenever you hear Alanis Morsette's “Jagged Little Pill” because it got you through your first heartbreak?



Music reveals things to us about people we think we know.


Remember the time that a Bon Jovi or Beatles song came on the radio? That’s when mom started doing dance moves you never saw before and dad got this weird smile on his face?


Or see grandma standing in the kitchen, doing the dishes, and you hear her humming an old hymn. Now whenever I hear the song “In the Garden” I think of my grandma Lois. The two are now intertwined.



Or my other grandma, who only wanted a few things for her birthday one year and one of those things was an Abba soundtrack. She would light up whenever “Fernando” played and said how much she liked that song. I watched her murmur “there was something in the air that night.” What night she was remembering when she sang those lines is for her and her heart alone, but it made me smile and wonder more about my grandma.



What song does that for you? 

Can you image your life without music?



I can’t. I really can’t. I wouldn’t want to. It is so much about our human story. So much of my story.



I remember the first time I drove in a car by myself. It was a Wednesday night and I was driving a van to choir practice. (Yes, nerd).  I remember making a point to make a memory. I also remember that Selena’s “I could fall in love” played on the radio. Now, every time I hear that song I am my 16 year old self. I can feel my nervousness, the gloves clasping the stirring wheel. I made it safely there with Selena's help.



Music also brings us home.



Valadmir Horowitz was an accomplished Russian pianist who reached fame at a young age. He left his native Russia in 1925 at age 22 to study in the west knowing he would not be allowed back. He spent the majority of his life touring and giving recordings receiving accolades and fame. 

Then, in 1986, 60 years after he left he returned to Moscow an old man to give a concert. I watched a recording of one of his songs. It was a short two and a half minute performance of Schumann’s Traumerei. He sat down and told the story of his life to his fellow countrymen without ever saying a word. Some didn’t move an inch, others wept. They all listened. 



Music is in our bigger stories. It plays and reminds us of transcendent things. How music does this is a mystery, even if science can explain the nerouscience. I remember one of my last piano concerts I had with my piano teacher. She said the reason she taught music was that it gives a glimpse of heaven.



It can also get you through momentary hell. 


Like tonight, I was having a moment. Thinking about a future situation I was not looking forward to. Feeling the ache of something lost. I was flipping through my computer and had Itunes open. I pressed a random button and this song began to play. 


“You're not alone
Together we stand
I'll be by your side
You know I'll take your hand
When it gets cold

And it feels like the end
There's no place to go
You know I won't give in
No, I won't give in
Keep holding on 
(Avril Lavigne- Keep Holding On)


It was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. The song knew better than me.

It always does. Because it gets deep down in the core of my soul. When I hear a movie soundtrack I love or say a prayer with U2’s Bono something rumbles and shakes down there. I can’t find words to it. All I know is that I become more alive when I hear it. I also believe I become more like myself.



One last memory. A few years back I went to a Paul McCartney concert at Wrigley Field in Chicago. At one point the band took a break and Paul walked to the front of the stage. Just him and his instrument. He told the story of writing a song with John Lennon about encouraging people in the midst of the civil rights struggle. He quietly started to play and sang the words, “Blackbird singing n the dead of night…”



It was a magical moment. He had tens of thousands of people instantly captivated. Including me.



There was something in the air that night. I couldn’t describe all that was happening within me. But the music could. It always does.



Play on my heart cried.



Play on.