Safe Pasture

“Heather? Hi! Can you hear me?” I recognize the soft, blue eyes of my nurse as she speaks to me. I’m all warm and drowsy and calm. I hear the soft hum of air that fills up the warm “space blanket” that covers me (if you don’t know what a space blanket is, trust me, it’s fabulous!). My eyes fall on my husband’s smile on the other side of the recovery room.

“They only took the cyst and the ovary!” he says. I am a loopy mess, but I am flooded with peace, his words holding an enormous amount of gravity.

No cancer.

Weeks of accumulating stress start slowly shedding off me as I lay there. It’s a strange moment, when you are still feeling the effects of the anesthesia, while trying to process everything you’ve just experienced. In those few hours, time seems to have no place. I’m in and out of sleep, reveling in the fuzzy warmth of this quiet, painless time after surgery.

My husband and I have a few laughs…he recalls how I was crying as they wheeled me back and he called out, there’s no crying in surgery! Always the comedian, that one. I didn’t necessarily laugh, but I did enter the OR wearing a half-smile. I told the nurses that I’d named my cyst Felicia, and if they could please get a picture of her on her way out that would be great (sadly, I never did get that picture). One nurse told me about how she had named the surgery robot Delilah. I joked about how her and Felicia would get along just fine.

The anesthesiologist was a refreshing soul, so kind and funny. As I was about to slip off into my drug-induced sleep, he asked me what my favorite beach was, and I’m all oh no, no…I’ve got to say Psalm 23. He’s like, ok girl, you do you.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…

And that’s as far as I got. In what seemed like two minutes later, it was all over. My first experience under anesthesia was a success. I had been so afraid of it, almost as much as everything else…I’m a bit of a control freak that wants to know everything as it’s happening. Needless to say, that’s not possible in the middle of a surgical procedure (thank the good Lord for modern medicine!). Just as everyone said…it truly was the best nap ever.

I’ve always struggled with control and trust, and the anxiety leading up to the surgery was monstrous. Each day was like climbing a mountain; every day I climbed higher and higher, afraid to look down, but knowing I had to keep pace, carefully, and sometimes reluctantly, placing one foot in front of the other. Would my strength carry me? Would there be bad weather ahead? Would I reach the top safely? No control of the outcome, only trust and faith and small, wobbly steps.

The unknown.

To completely surrender control seemed like an impossible task. I knew the cyst on my ovary had to come out. What I did not know, was what answer awaited on the other side of my eyes opening. Until I was on the operating table, there was no way to know the next steps. If there was any cancer, I would have a complete hysterectomy, which meant longer surgery and recovery, and early menopause. If there were no cancer cells, I would only loose my left ovary and the humungo growth that tried to eat her. I was nearing the peak of my mountain, climbing barefoot in a snowstorm. But there was no rerouting this time.

My friends, my family, my faith…I can’t tell you how completely surrounded and supported I was leading up to my surgery day. But I still struggled with trust. The mountain was so huge and daunting; so many rugged, sharp surfaces. It was dark and cold and horrifying.

Lord, I know you’ve got me through this. I know I’m tethered to your safety rope. So why am I so scared of this climb?

A friend of mine sent me a Louis Giglio sermon titled Even Though. I had recently read his book, Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at Your Table; it was suggested to me by another friend who knew my walk with anxiety. However, I had never actually listened to the sermon that the book was based on. He tells the story of how those nine words forever changed his view of adversity, while referencing the scriptures of Psalm 23.

Last year, as we all spent our second year transitioning into pandemic life, Psalm 23 was one of those passages that kept popping up everywhere. I’d hear it in my favorite podcasts, it would come up in conversations, while reading articles. It is one of the most known and well-loved passages for sure, but it had definitely been in my line of sight for the past year or so. It describes the Lord as our Shepherd; He takes care of us when we are completely helpless, as sheep notably are. It emphasizes how great His love is for us and reminds us that no matter how far we stray, he will rescue us and lead us home.

So I’m listening to this sermon on my phone in my closet (my notorious quiet place), and as I’m putting on makeup, the circle of my face reflecting in the vanity mirror, I hear the next verse…

He makes me lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23:2).

My eyes close, and tears start to roll down my face. In my mind, I’m on the operating table, bright lights above me…and then all of a sudden I’m lying in the soft, bright green grass of a beautiful, lush field. I feel the warm breeze blowing across my face as I lie there, palms open. I feel the sunshine on my face and stare up at the bluest of skies. I can even sense the soft, thick coat of sheep’s wool. A smile rests across my face. I am completely at peace.

I’m right here with you, sweet girl. Don’t you worry. I’m right here. All you have to do is lie down and rest.

I hear the words and feel them all at the same time. He’s there reminding me, it will all be okay. The Lord is my shepherd, I don’t have to worry, I don’t have to fear. I can lie down and rest. I can surrender fully.

Oh, how I love these fleeting moments with the Holy Spirit. I used to think that sounded crazy, talk of these spiritual encounters (my friend and I like to call them “a little bit of woo-woo”), but now I know it’s how He meets with us when we are desperate for his presence. We just have to be willing to receive, to be open to what His Spirit has for us. The direct line to the God of wonders is always available to us, if only we would make the time and space to be still and listen.

I bask in my new super-power of peacefulness, finish with my make up, and pick up the phone to read a text. It’s then that I notice the date… February 23rd. 2/23. Just like the verse that had just breathed new life into me, Psalm 23:2. That made me laugh out loud. I mean, come on!!! Ok, God, I get it! I hear you!

From that day until the surgery, I am washed in perfect peace. Ok, maybe not totally perfect; I am human after all. But sufficient. And with all the conviction I can muster, I do just as He says. I lay down in the soft, green pasture and surrender. Because my Shepherd’s got me. My Shepherd will never leave my side. My Shepherd will lead me down that mountain.

And just like that, as my eyelids lift slowly in that tiny, muted green recovery room, I realize I’ve made it. I’m still there, resting in that lush, green field, the once ominous mountain now only a shadow in the distance.

He’s led me down to safe pasture.

Recovery is slow, but there is stillness and growth in healing. Not only does our body have to slow down and rest, but our faith needs time to sprout new off-shoots, to cultivate the beginnings of new roots. As unwelcome as they are, trials and hardships make for the most fertile soil. You may end up growing fruit to share with others, a tree for someone to lean on, or an endless field of soft, green grass for one to find rest.

Whatever you produce from your pain, His love and faithfulness will shine through you for the all world to see. Not even the tallest, darkest, most treacherous mountain can block your light.

The Shepherd will make sure of that.

In the Waiting

I struggled to get out of bed today.

Despite a bluebird sky and abundant sunshine, my soul was heavy, seemingly anchoring me to the bed. Another day of waiting, another moment of crippling fear and depression trying to steal the day from me. The enemy had his claws in me, threatening to take me away to devour.

I noticed some strange pain and bloating a few weeks ago. Ironically, while visiting a friend who had just had surgery for similar reasons, I voiced my concerns. Thankfully her nudges landed me promptly in my doctor’s office (a place I constantly avoid at all costs) and a few days later with a diagnosis…an ovarian cyst.

Of course off I go, consulting friends and Dr. Google (curse that never-ending worm hole!), my mind spinning with what and why and when and how. My husband and I have a trip and I debate cancelling, but then I figure I might as well get some rest and relaxation in while I can, so thankfully we go. Although I’m mildly uncomfortable and on an emotional roller coaster, I am surrounded by the most amazing people who speak truth into me when I need it most. I spend precious quiet time with my husband and my mom. The giant oaks and Spanish moss and ocean breeze are medication for my soul.

Until the phone call from my doctor.

This isn’t the type of growth that will go away on its own, she mentions…it has to come out surgically. Also I have a slightly elevated levels of cancer markers in my blood test, so they want to schedule my surgery with an oncologist. They tell me my cyst is roughly 10cm. Not too big I think.

Until I’m having a conversation with a friend about all the information I’ve just received and realized I have miscalculated. I was thinking in millimeters.

My cyst is roughly the size of a GRAPEFRUIT.

Oh. My. Goodness.

It’s fine. It’s fine! Everything’s fine. Is it fine? What if it isn’t fine? What should I do? Should I move? Should I lie down? How is it just floating around in there?! Should I go home?! I want to go home!! I want to see my kids! Will I see my kids again? What do I do?!!!

I calm down(ish) and make some phone calls to schedule the MRI and the meeting with the surgeon, which all seem like light-years away. Until then, all I can do is…wait.

Wait and pray it doesn’t burst.

Wait and pray there’s no cancer.

Wait and pray I survive the surgery.

Wait and pray that they don’t have to do a complete hysterectomy.

Wait and pray, wait and pray, wait and pray…

When I was a waitress, almost 20 years ago now, one of my regulars used to tell me I had the patience of Job. Not being raised with bible knowledge, I didn’t really understand the reference. With some quick research, I learned that he was a good and successful man that was tested by God and still managed to keep his faith. But I never did read his full story.

Until today.

It’s not a particularly uplifting story, but definitely one about the pain of waiting. Job was subjected to enormous suffering, an unsupportive spouse and friends, and enormous frustration in trying to understand the reason for his suffering. He claimed he did everything right. He was arguably the first person who cried out, “why, God?”. Since those ancient days, it has been proven time and time again that most likely we will never know why, but our unshakable God does. After extensive groaning and pleading, Job surrenders and humbles himself fully to God, and is eventually provided for ten-fold.

I took comfort in relating to Job’s cries as I read each chapter; I needed someone at my pity party. Although I didn’t loose my children, all my belongings or break out in painful boils (I mean, poor Job had it rough!) I had my own suffering to dwell in and grumble about. An unexpected health scare, of which I still don’t know the outcome. Two canceled winter break trips. Debilitating pain leaving little for me to do but sit around the house (ok, so there’s a silver lining in that…although my messy house is driving me a little nuts).

I look around outside of my own circumstances and see so much pain. I’ve had a friend loose a child recently. Others unsure if their marriage will survive another day. Friends losing parents and trying to best care for sick children. Human suffering isn’t uniquely mine, and I’ve been spared more than I probably deserve. Sadness, despair, injustice…why, God?

Like Job, we’re angry, we are confused, desperate and tired of suffering. We want reasons, answers, justification. We want to know how it all ends.

But then God humbly reminds us…that’s My job.

And so we are reminded, although we stomp our feet and pout about it, that as much as we want answers and want them now, we must wait and hope and trust. While we desperately search for truth on the internet or in people’s opinions or out in the world, that only God is all-knowing and understanding and truth bearing.

It’s in the waiting that we grow our faith.

I managed to drag myself out of bed eventually, and one of the first things I noticed were my houseplants, withering and drooping from neglect. Slowly but surely, I filled up an old plastic cup leftover from a college football game (I’m a sucker for a souvenir cup, mind you) and gave each one some life-giving water.

One by one, I was reminded of how we can become so blinded and distracted by fear that we end up forgetting to nourish our hearts and minds. We forget to just be still in God’s goodness and truth and just sit and hold hands with Jesus and tell him how scared we are. We cry and plead and beg for everything to be okay. We pray our cries are heard, even though answers aren’t always given when or how we want them.

We have to trust the waiting.

We must nourish ourselves, a little each day, not on fear of the unknown, but in the goodness of what is known, the goodness of the small moments in front of us. We must rest in the truth that maybe there is no blueprint for life…maybe there are just next steps. There is beauty and light but also loneliness and darkness. There are small steps forward and maybe a few backwards but always security in knowing we are known and loved no matter what.

If I focus and dwell and obsess about my ability to control the unknown, I will miss out on the moments and the memories and the gifts of what is known, what is true in my life now: that life is good, God is good, and that every minute of this life is a gift.

So here I sit, with my blanket and my heating pad and frozen lasagna in the oven, (also trying to figure out what I’m going to watch now that the Winter Olympics is over) realizing that I am…calm. A little bored and uncomfortable, maybe…but at peace. I’ve fought with God these past few days, grumbled and cried and resisted, but now I’m finally ready to receive.

Okay Lord! Here I am! You’re right…you’re the only one who knows. I surrender it all to You. I’m here to be watered.

And just like that, my leaves start to perk up a little.

When it Just Hurts

You know the feeling.

You wake up at first light, eyes puffy, head aching, processing the emotional hangover from the night before.

Miscommunication. Sharp words. Raised voices. Stomping feet. Slamming doors. Hurt feelings. Tears. Sleeplessness. Self-pity, loneliness, despair, isolation…

Being human is hard. We are all complicated beings, shaped by our experiences and our current situations. We carry these things with us and are triggered by things we can’t identify fast enough to avoid the damage they cause. The ones nearest to us get the overflow, and so on and so on. Hurt rarely singles out the original culprit. It seeps and crawls and oozes it’s way into everything you touch, bringing with it the pain and suffering and heartache that started as only a pinprick on your heart. That is the landslide of the power of hurt.

But God.

Yes, I have a sensitive soul. I’ll be the first to admit it. I can still feel the way my heart broke at 6-years-old, watching my parents fight. I can still feel the sadness in 2nd grade learning about MLK Jr., learning for the first time that people hated each other simply for the color of their skin. I can still feel the tears on my face when my favorite cat died. I can still feel the tears falling on my white butterfly comforter when I was told we were moving in 5th grade. I can still feel the dread of going to school in 6th grade because that kid who made fun of me everyday would be there. I can still feel the grip of my car’s steering wheel as I drove through tears after my high-school boyfriend broke up with me. I can still feel the ache of homesickness when I left for college.

I can still feel that hurt. But what I hurt most for, is that girl.

That was a girl that often felt unloved, unworthy, insecure. A girl who stuffed all her hurt inside to please everyone around her and who felt like it was her responsibility alone to keep her world from crumbling. A girl who’s unprotected heart was free range for the world to manipulate and destroy.

But I’m not that girl anymore.

The girl I am now, the woman I am, is different. Her heart resides in a place built on solid ground, a place so safe and beautiful that evil cannot touch her there. Light beams from the windows and never lets the darkness in. It’s clean and comfortable and full of warm blankets and comfy chairs and fresh baked cookies and scented candles and love and safety.

Safety.

My heart lives in the Father’s house now, where there is safety and security and peace. Hurt sometimes makes it up to the front porch, but Jesus sees it, out of the corner of his eye…he goes and grabs a broom from the pantry and quickly sweeps it away. Sometimes the hurt gets bolder, dares to knock at the door, sometimes even manages to crack it open slightly, but Jesus comes over, smiles and says confidently, “No, thank you. You’re not welcome here. Have a nice day!”

And I remain inside, safe and sound, probably on the couch with my blanket and my coffee and my Jesus.

Our world will throw hurt at us faster than we can handle. It is healthy to acknowledge and feel our hurt. But we don’t have to handle it alone. I’m so grateful that I know that now. I’m so grateful for an identity and a heart that is forever safe in Him.

I pray for continued strength, for patience, for a safe place to go when I am hurt. I pray there will always be a warm, inviting, loving place for me on that couch next to Jesus. And I pray that you will hear the best news ever…that there’s plenty of room for you there, too.

There will always be room for you.

You Are What You Eat

I did something a bit, well, sneaky the other night.

As we were about to turn in for the night, my husband asked if I knew where his phone was.

“Your phone? Hmmmm…” I replied.

I knew exactly where the phone was. Selfishly, however, I omitted that information. Notice I didn’t lie, right? I told you I was sneaky…

My husband loves comedy podcasts. Like a lot. Every night, falling asleep in his huge headphones, comedians help lure his thoughts away from everyday stress. In the morning, it’s news on his phone. Scanning pages and pages of headlines, the latest shocking drama or political circus act. It seems like a harmless distraction, or is it?

He also gets caught up with work calls, texts, never gets a chance to fully escape from work. Constant responsibility weighs heavy. It’s a sacrifice, sure, but he truly loves the push and pull of his work life.

I too, am guilty of the addiction of finger swiping late into the night when I need to wind down. Before I know it, I’ve gone deep into the rabbit hole; this story leads to that story leads to another story. Sometimes interesting, sometimes informative, even uplifting at times, but for the most part, distracting chatter. I’ll read an article and then get caught up in the reader comments that usually read like childish banter of I’m right/you’re wrong nanny-nanny boo-boo. Its like an all-you-can-eat buffet, you just want to keep going back for more.

A while back we talked about this in bible study, about things we tend to watch or read regularly. My friend mentioned her husband started listening to these political podcasts constantly, and she noticed a subtle change in him. He became overly worried and invested in the toxic political atmosphere according to the news, when in reality his career was nothing related to that world. He became quick to anger and criticize. Finally she suggested that he listen to something a bit less intense.

For the past few years it seems, the phone seems to become my husbands constant companion. Ok honestly, it’s that way for a lot of us. It’s a way to escape at the end of the long day, or relish those last few minutes of laying in bed in the morning. And don’t even get me started on Netflix…I mean, how fun can that be on a rainy day???

The other day, before the phone hijacking incident, I told my husband he was turning into his mamaw. Don’t get me wrong, she was an amazing, spit fire of a women. Jason tells stories of how she used to buy things from garage sales and turn around and sell them for profit. The woman could pull off one hell of a hustle. When I first met her, she was sitting with Grandpa Brian on their plaid couch, cozied up in their small living room, eyes glued to one of the 24 hour news networks.

“Jason, don’t you go bringing kids into this world, it is a scary place,” she would say, staring at that small box in her living room. She would go on with concern about how the world and humanity was doomed. How we should be worried and afraid. She didn’t venture out much from her small house in Franklin, Tennessee much in those later years; the people in the tv warned her not to. The constant, negative news feed had shaped her entire world view from that half-acre lot in suburban America.

We already struggle daily with our own interpersonal news reel, feeding us the shoulds and what ifs and whys of our daily actions. We struggle with self-compassion and positive self-talk already, so to feed ourselves more negativity from the world around us can overload until we are drowning in hopelessness. We feel a tremendous weight and burden that we don’t even need to be carrying.

I’m not saying that we need to be unaware of what’s happening in the world, because I absolutely believe that knowledge of injustices and needs around us can call us to action and unite communities, but this is more of a help me, help you situation. Like putting on our own oxygen masks before we start helping others. If we run off trying to put out fires before we’ve filled up our water tank, we won’t get very far.

I decided a few years ago, I needed to change my diet.

It wasn’t a food diet; (ok, so there is lots of science to back up that this is essential also, but this girl needs some French fries in her life!!) I needed to change the information I ingested.

I struggled with self-worth, with feeling like I was enough, with shame and guilt over my anxiety issues. But unlike those extra pounds that you can feel and see, my extra weight was internal. It made my heart and soul feel heavy with doubt and fear. Being overweight in your soul can be just as harmful to your health as in the physical sense, but most of us don’t entertain this notion as much.

So how do you start a healthy diet for the soul?

Everyone is different here. We all have things we feel are lacking, and those are the nutrients we need to feed ourselves regularly. Of course it can be as simple as doing one thing we love everyday, or using our creative gifts more often. For me, writing, music, and being out in nature pack a healthy serving of soul food, so I try to make intentional time for those as often as possible. I have friends that go for long runs or take a trip alone once a year. The other day I told the lady doing my pedicure how much I appreciated it and how I wish it was covered by health insurance. Whatever self-care you can fit into your schedule, don’t feel guilty about it.

I also read my devotional every morning, either while brushing my teeth or even more effectively, when I drink my coffee. Tying a daily habit to another only reinforces the act. I make it a priority to read the “good news” of God before reading the news of the world around me. I’ve been doing this daily for about three years, and it’s become as essential to me as breathing oxygen. My oxygen mask.

Mindfulness and being still are other daily snacks that I try to feed myself. We are constantly attacked by countless distractions, and ingesting small moments of quiet and calm can better equip us to battle that sense of feeling overwhelmed with to-do’s. Even if it’s five minutes of your day, the benefits from this habit are life-changing.

Of course, physical exercise and a healthy diet directly affect our state of mind, so it is important to pay attention here as well. But just as we try to drink enough water, take our vitamins, get our cup of coffee in daily, we can’t overlook the importance of the information we are feeding our brains and hearts, figuratively speaking. The mind-body-spirit connection is about as critical as all those crunchy yogis and preachy pastors and chill therapists say it is, and I’m so glad the “mainstream” population (whatever that generalization really means?) is starting to believe it. We can’t do life on our own, people.

So before you scroll the endless barrage of news feeds and Facebook posts and check-lists, pay attention.

Have you fed your soul first today?

I know, it sounds corny. Cheesy. Whatever you want to call it to distract you from the fact that it is essential to your health.

The night I “hid” the phone, my husband and I cuddled up and watched a show together. It reminded me of our earlier days, when smartphones weren’t even on our radar. I relished in our quality time, and my soul started to fill up. In return, I felt loved, worthy, at ease. The extra pounds of loneliness and rejection slowly started melting off. I was satisfied.

So while this isn’t a lesson in how to deceive your husband (of course I fessed up the next morning, after gushing about how much I enjoyed our quality time), it is a reminder to take notice of the “junk food” you catch yourself craving; the deficits and distractions in your life that are depriving you and draining your happiness and health. If you have to set limits and boundaries to do so, go for it.

If you find yourself hungry for happiness, craving comfort and control, thirsty for security and self-compassion, start a new diet. Find what lifts you up, take it in, feed it to yourself a little each day. It’s the most important, most delicious, most satisfying meal you will ever eat.

Promo Code: JOY

I promised myself I’d be in bed by 10pm.

Yet here I am, 50 minutes past my bedtime, deciding that there’s more important business to attend. Time to get back to writing. It’s been way too long, friends.

Life is good. Summer was hot. Heck, fall was hotter than summer I think. Halloween was crazy. I think the moon was full for like seven straight days at some point, so between that and all the candy my kids were plain bonkers.

Then my sweet old stinky dog died in his sleep. We went from bonkers to grief in 2.2 seconds. I was a sad, sad soul. I think I cried for 24 hours straight. But although I still swear I hear Bear’s toenails tip-toeing down the hall, and his little piggy-like snorts coming around the corner, we are slowly adjusting to the emptiness.

Now it’s almost December…and like every year we all stop and look at each other like HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!! Then ensues the blur of shopping and parties and Santa and Christmas songs and white elephants and Black Fridays and cyber Mondays and Giving Tuesday’s and days that I can’t even see straight because it’s FREAKING DECEMBER.

But I caught it early this year. A light conversation I had with a friend early in November stopped me in my tracks. We were literally dreading the holidays. Bracing ourselves for the chaos and basically setting ourselves up for a stressful month no matter what. And then I heard myself. And I decided to stop it.

NO! I will NOT dread this season. I will not get wrapped up in the busy distractions that steal my joy. I will not stress over buying gifts or worrying that they are enough or perfect. I will not go to every Christmas party if I’m tired and need to say no. I will give what I can to charities I love and know that I can’t give to everyone and that’s ok. My cards won’t be early if on time at all but they will get done. If the dang Elf forgets to move one or two or five nights in a row, it won’t ruin my children’s lives. The chaos will not control me anymore…I’m taking back my joy this season.

Because, y’all. We are so totally setting ourselves up for failure every year. It’s like some imaginary universal Christmas competition that we all go crazy trying to win. The decorating and the wrapping and the shopping and the baking and the partying…yes, it can be fun, and it may even bring you joy, but not if you feel like you are chasing an unattainable goal of winning the holiday perfection trophy every year.

That was the path I was on the last few years. Literally so distracted by all the stuff that I was missing out on the joy.

Why? What is it all for?

Last year, during our school’s mom/daughter Christmas craft party, Rachel Brown came to speak. Between the painting and blow-drying and kids running around with unlimited hot-chocolate, you could hardly hear the poor girl. I tried to listen as best I could, and I know she played her favorite Christmas song, but it was hard to hear. I asked her at the end of the night what the song was, and the next day, in the stillness of my quiet car (which is sometimes the only place a mom can get peace and quiet) I played the song; Wrap This One Up by Christy Nockles.

As I listened intently to each word, a peace came over me. I knew I needed to hear that song in that moment. I needed to be reminded of where my focus needed to be during that busy, crazy time. I just needed to be still and listen.

That song forever changed Christmas for me.

From that day through the rest of December, anytime I started to get wrapped up in the chaos and stress, I would force myself to stop and listen to that song. To remind myself of the why of Christmas. To remember what it’s all for.

Because the what and the why are so much bigger than the stuff.

If you get a moment in the next few days, try to be still, even for a minute. Focus on what’s good in your life. Focus on the fact that we get the privilege to celebrate at all. Forget the invisible finish line and the infinite lists you’ve made for yourself, and relish the fact that you are here to see another day. Soak up every ounce of joy you can. Be grateful for the tangled ball of Christmas lights and the 60 cookies you have to make and the paper cuts from the wrapping paper.

Or don’t do any of it at all. Just decide to sit and be with people and love on them and shine your light brighter than the dang Rockefeller tree.

Whatever brings you joy, will bring joy to others. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. No promo code required.

So before you go rolling your eyes at those Christmas songs that drive you mad sometimes, try to be still and listen. You may just be reminded what a miracle Christmas really is.

Dear Turbulence

Ahhh, the adventures of summertime travel. We have been hoping around a ton, making precious memories along the way.

Although flying has been somewhat easier for me than in the past, I still get hung up on the same old triggers. Turbulence is a biggie. No matter how many times I seem to fly, I struggle with the unpredictable nature and lack of control when those pesky little bumps seemingly come out of nowhere.

This past flight, although it wasn’t particularly terrible, it was just constant enough to drive me to that edge where I am desperately grasping for comfort. Where I just want to make it stop. It’s so hard in these moments to slow my thoughts down to where I have trained them; the physiological response is just so quick. But obviously, I cannot control this specific situation, so I must cope.

Enter my good old friend…words.

I need to get the words out, the words that match the overwhelming feelings. They need space, a place to breathe, a way to purge this toxic negativity from my body.

You know when you are so upset at someone that you write a letter you never intend to send? That’s what I decided to do. I decided to send a note to my pal, Turbulence.

Dear Turbulence,

Hi there! It’s me again. I know we have this exchange every time I fly. I get very upset with you, you see. The way your existence in the cloud formations just happen to be in the flight path of my plane, making it bump up and down with invisible undulations in air flow, it’s all very scary and terrifying to me. Why can’t you just stay out of the way until my plane has safely passed you by? How can you be so inconsiderate? You make me very, very nervous. I’m sick of it.

Today especially, even on this very short flight, you’ve decided to hang out waaaay up high at cruising altitude, in these thin little clouds that are shielding the clear blue sky with a hazy white glow so that I can’t see anything out my window. They are bright and blinding and it’s probably annoying to the passengers next to me that I have to leave the window open since you make me so nervous. I have to see what’s going on around me, hoping that it will give me a clue to when you decide to throw a few more unwelcome bumps my way. Sure, they are small and subtle bumps, but enough to keep me on edge wondering where the bigs ones are you’re hiding. I wish you would stop being so secretive about all of this. It’s not right.

I really hope you can work on controlling yourself and stop scaring me to death. I get really stressed out and nervous when I’m flying with you just bumping me around all unpredictability. Don’t you realize how many people you are making uncomfortable up here? It’s just really rude, and I think you need to stop.

Sincerely,

Your Favorite Panicky Passenger

I know what the response will be, I can see it coming.

Dear Panicky Passenger,

I am so very sorry for your panicked state while flying with me. But please keep in mind, I’m just air. I can’t be anything else. The weather patterns and conditions made me this way. I’m here whether you want me or not. I’m not trying to scare you on purpose. I’m just being myself, and going where the wind takes me, and that’s the best I can do. I’m so sorry to hear that I make you so uncomfortable. Since I can’t do anything on my end to help you feel better, maybe there are some techniques you can learn that will help you deal with me when I’m hard at work. You could also take this up with the Global Air Current department. I regret to hear you are having issues with me, but I’m just doing my job, ma’am.

I hope that you have a pleasant flight.

My sincere apologies,

Turbulence

As usual, I make the realization that it’s not all Turbulence’s fault. It’s also my reactions that are to blame. So I write back.

Dear Turbulence,

I’m so sorry that I have placed all the blame on you again. I know you can’t help where and what you are, and it was unfair of me to make you feel badly for my discomfort. After I sent my first letter, I looked around the plane; I saw people sleeping, playing cards, reading and relaxing peacefully. No one else seemed upset enough at you to be writing you a mean letter. Everyone else must have realized and accepted that you cannot help who you are. Although it’s true that you do make some people nervous when you bump them around particularly hard, I know you don’t mean too. Like you said, you are just doing what you were meant to do.

You see, I have irrational fears that sometimes try to hijack my brain, and they cause me to enter into a state of panic. Even though there is no physical harm that your turbulance has placed me in, my brain send signals to my body that I am in danger, and it results in a vicious feedback cycle every time I feel the slightest bump. This is called a negative feedback loop. Your turbulence is also a panic trigger. There are ways to help this of course, and it is my responsibility to learn how to manage and deal with having you in my life. I’m so sorry to blame you for how I choose to react to your existence. I know you don’t mean to scare me or anybody else. It is something I continue to work on every time I fly.

Although it’s true that sometimes I don’t like you, and you make me extremely uncomfortable, I need to learn that you are a part of life. If I want to continue to travel to fun and exciting places while making wonderful travel memories, you and I are just going to need to learn to get along and trust each other. I need to trust that although you make me nervous and scared, I am not in real harm. I will try to remember that next time I want to write you a nasty letter.

Looks like the nasty letter really needs to be addressed to my brain. I’ll get to work on that right away.

Sincere Apologies,

Work in Progress

I get a final response, hopefully the last exchange we will have for awhile.

Dear Work in Progress,

Again, I’m so sorry I make you so scared. It’s true that I have no way of warning you of every bump, and yes it is true that I cannot harm you and do not intend to do so. I hope that you can work with your brain and train it to not worry so much about me. Good job at continuing to fly even when you are so nervous about it. I would hate for you to miss out on the adventures of traveling because of me. It would sadden me greatly.

I’m sorry you don’t like me, but I hope that you can learn to tolerate me. I’m really not as bad as people make me out to be. I hope that one day you’ll be like the people on the plane who are relaxing and enjoying their flight without worrying about me so much. It’s a much better way to be, I believe.

Good luck with everything. I’ll reach out to that brain of yours and give her a good talking too. She sounds like she’s got some serious trust and control issues.

Until then, keep on flying and I’ll see you next time!

Be brave my friend!

Sincerely,

Turbulence

I finish this two-sided conversation with an interesting feeling…relief, calm, and positivity. The plane continues to bump intermittently, but I find myself unfazed. I even close my eyes for a bit.

So I had an imaginary conversation with an inanimate object…and it totally worked.

It doesn’t matter how silly your coping skills are, find what works for you and go for it. Let go of the shame and stigma of your fear and give it a good talking to.

Then all of a sudden you’ll realize, with alarming clarity, that the things you’re so afraid of couldn’t talk back to you even if they tried.

The Blanket

I’m drinking coffee…on a plane!!! What?!! Who is this girl?

Many people head straight to the bar before they board an airplane, hit the Starbucks, whatever pumps them up (or calms their nerves) for the flight. Not me, I am straight-up ginger ale only up in the air.  I want to be in complete control at all times, just in case. Like I’ve said before, someone needs to be sober in case it all goes down, just in case I need to take over for the pilot or something. Yet here I am in the middle seat, next to my son; my husband and daughter in the next row, ordering coffee.  A previous panic trigger. There was a point in time where I wouldn’t drink coffee at my own house, as even the slightest elevated heart rate would start me down the worm hole of panic.

Ahhhh the dangerous desire for control.

The past couple of days I’ve really been thinking about the effects of the need for control. I’ve been a control freak most of my life it seems…which is why the fear may have started early. I want to have control to the extent that I can know what will happen next, which I’m pretty sure no one in the world has the power to do. The realization that this is utterly impossible, and that I must learn to accept that I will never have complete control in all situations, is a constant struggle.

Even my devotional passages this week have been reminding me of the importance of letting go of the desire to control every aspect of my life. I love these reminders, but then I start to feel bad about myself. Guilt creeps in. Why can’t I put all my trust in God? Is he mad at me for this? I am less deserving and worthy in His eyes because of my constant level of fear? 

So add trust issues on top of control issues I guess. I am constantly reminded to release my urge to control my life and look to Him.

“No one was ever meant to carry the burden of complete control”

Yes!!! 

Yes. As I read the words I remember this, they blanket my soul in warmth. But why then, do I end up finding myself so quickly back to feeling exposed and chilled with fear? Perhaps I didn’t remain under the blanket long enough? I didn’t let its warmth radiate deep enough?

If you are a person of faith, you realize that it is a journey. I’m a little late to the party, having not been raised going to church regularly. We did go occasionally, to different places sometimes, and every place always seemed a bit foreign, like they were speaking a language I didn’t quite understand. I wasn’t sure how to act, what to say, what was expected. I was afraid I was doing it all wrong. I went to church with friends, witnessed different types of denominations and their rituals. My stepdad is Jewish and we spent some time enjoying some of their traditions. I taught in a Catholic school for almost 10 years and can say the heck out of some Hail Marys. As intimidating as each new religious experience was, I did learn that finding God came in all shapes and sizes. For this perspective I am grateful.

But in not having a strong connection to one house of God, I told myself that I wasn’t worthy of his love. I couldn’t quote Bible verses, and was confused about whether to worship Jesus or God as a child. What if I talk to the wrong One? Do I need to choose? I had lots of questions that I was too afraid to ask. I was asked if I was saved or needed to be, and I was always unsure of how to answer. I often found I felt closest to God in nature (which is still mostly true); watching a sunset, reveling in the breeze, watching the waves on the ocean, I felt Him here. I felt close to Him through music and singing.  Did this mean I had gained his approval? Was this enough?Am I doing it right? I was never sure.

In my Bible study recently, we were asked what our relationship with God was growing up. Every answer was so different. I spoke up and explained that I felt like I was never quite worthy of knowing Him; I felt like God was one of the popular kids that didn’t want to hang out with me. I felt like a good person, like if He knew my heart he would be pleased, and I wanted Him to know that I had a desire to know him, but was also intimidated and didn’t quite know where to start. I felt like maybe I had missed the Jesus boat and was left back with the stragglers. Did I still count? Was another boat on the way?

Speaking of Bible study, the fact that I had even joined one in recent years was so unexpected for me. I always had a desire to join one, but what did I know about the Bible? Wouldn’t they look at me like maybe I was in the wrong place? Was there going to be a quiz on Bible knowledge to allow me to attend (as I’m editing this I just remembered that “Bible” is supposed to be capitalized…doh!!)? But a good friend invited me (she actually thought I already attended, haha!), and assured me that all were welcome, so in I went.

Guess what? They didn’t ask me to leave. There was no Bible verse quiz of any sort (shoot, another B I had to capitalize!!).  In fact, I was exactly the kind of person they wanted to reach. The one who felt unworthy. That felt out-of-place. They embraced me and took me in. They reminded me that there wasn’t a wrong time or a wrong way to find God. That we are all on our own personal faith journeys, and we all have our own pace.

I’m pretty sure it was with that group of amazing women that I first realized that God truly loved me, just the way I was. That I was secure and accepted with amazing Grace. I can almost pinpoint the moment. I was practically in tears about my struggles with anxiety (I could barely get through the carpool line those days without a near panic attack) and those women just took me in and lifted me up. They were the hands and feet of God (or Jesus, right?), radiating with love and acceptance. He grabbed hold of my hand and my heart and never let go.

Still, I am a skeptic by nature. I analyze things down to their core. I think and over think and think some more. Which is why sometimes I question. Sometimes I demand answers and clarity. Which when it comes to faith, you are not given.  You must turn a cheek, and dig deep within. You must walk by faith not by sight. Wow, so hard for me. But I’m still on this journey, and I’m not planning on turning around anytime soon.

There are strong nudges on this journey of faith, ones that shout and ones that seem to whisper. There are crests and valleys and moments where I struggle to understand and others where I am lost in the moment. But the most important thing I am learning is that there’s no perfect here either.  There’s no one size fits all when it comes to faith and God and your place in line for Heaven. Wherever you are, is where you should be, and He is there, waiting to meet you in that place, ready to wrap you up and cover you with love. No guilt, no shame, no doubt should preceed that absolute truth.

It was not ever meant to be our burden to carry. We are not meant to be in complete control.  The work has already been done. The price has been paid. The more we can let go and realize this, the less fear and uncertainty will stain our hearts and steal our joy.

Fear has no place when faced with love.

I turn down the little personal AC fan above my airplane seat, something small that I actually can control, and grab the thin little blanket for warmth. I cover up, sit back and begin to relax in the security of that warm, tiny blanket.

Maybe I should order another cup of coffee? I’m not flying the plane, after all.