reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

I was a “gifted” little kid. The kind who got to get out of class to sit in a room with other gifted kids and do special gifted things. I was a little snob.

I was a people pleasing little kid. The kind who never got corrected by a teacher and rarely by a parent. I was held up as an ideal for other young people to follow. Lest you think this a ridiculous amount of hyperbole, when I was in third grade a child in class who seemed always in trouble for one thing or another was having a moment outside the class with the teacher. He was crying, “You always get after me for everything! Daja never even gets corrected about anything! She’s your favorite.”

The teacher replied, “Daja does get in trouble sometimes. Everyone does.” I was called into the conversation and the teacher said, “Daja, please tell John that you have gotten in trouble at school in the past.”

I just stared at her with my incredulous 3rd grade gifted face. “No, I haven’t.”

She replied, ”OK, maybe not this year yet. But you have gotten corrected or in trouble sometime while you were in school.”

“No, never.” I said.

The boy cried even more and the teacher dismissed my unhelpful little self to go back to my desk. I wish I could go back to that moment and show even an ounce of empathy instead of the smug superiority I felt in that moment. If he became a villain, no doubt this was part of his origin story.

I was a perfect teenager, the kind that wouldn’t dream of rocking the boat or rebelling in any form. And yes, lest you think that a ridiculous amount of hyperbole again, a man at church with four teenagers told them he was going to make a bracelet that said WWDD—substituting Daja for Jesus, because he wanted his girls to be like me. I laughed of course—inwardly feeling rather proud that I could be held up as such a standard.

Following this trend, I was an ideal wife. Reading my older blog posts make me cringe so hard. I had all the answers to what you were doing wrong and how you could do it as well as I was. Nevermind that authentically telling the truth, not looking at things through rose-colored glasses and practicing good boundaries were not things I understood nor practiced. Walking on egg shells, people pleasing, and ignoring my intuition: those were the things at which I was really excelling.

Me keeping up appearances and perfection has died hard in my adult years. But, I hope and pray I am actually a better person—or at the very least on my way to being a better person. Mind you this may not look like being a better person, because now I am far more likely to let you down or do something you don’t like without apology. But it is actually me being a better person without the pretense. You can trust the person I am now far more than you could 20 years ago.

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I think about boundaries a lot. I talk about boundaries fairly often. I wouldn’t say I am obsessed with boundaries, but some people have accused me of being so. Maybe because I didn’t discover this concept until so late in life that it has taken a decade to get the riff-raff out of my yard and off my lawn, like hungover frat boys the morning after a house party. All these people, things, ideas, soul-ties and such really had overstayed their welcome. It has been a massive clean-up effort, during which I have also been trying to repair the boundary lines—like putting the fences back up. Or maybe it is like getting a property re-surveyed to discover what is really yours and what belongs to the neighbors.

The conversation, at least on social media, surrounding boundaries is so muddy though. People have all kinds of ideas around what it means to have and keep boundaries. Of course you can read some great books by Danny Silk or Henry Cloud, but who has the time? (I mean, I do. Because I am “obsessed”….but whatevs.) So, I thought I would just do a little brain dump of some thoughts about boundaries. I know this is the content you are here for.

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It has been a really interesting few months. God has led me through grief, through facing some things in my past and in myself and in the carefully constructed (false) narrative I had built to protect both. I found myself standing in difficult truths—some that were beautiful and some that were painful, but all were healing.

I caught up with a friend this morning and shared the nitty gritty details. It went something like, “OK, I am going to tell you some really painful and ugly things. But, don’t worry. I am already healed. All I have right now is tremendous gratitude.”

The thing is that it is not hyperbole. I actually do feel tremendous gratitude.

God has loved me so well. He has carried me so faithfully and in ways I could not imagine if I had tried. In the last few weeks He pulled back the veil enough for me to see specifics areas where he protected and carried me. And the revelation left me literally speechless.

My friend this morning said my tale brought to mind Exodus 13 where God says that when he led his people out of Egypt he could have taken them by the Philistines, which was the shorter way. But, he said if they saw the Philistines they may have become frightened and returned to bondage. So, respecting human will, he led them the longer way, probably the more difficult way—because he loved them and respected their freedom.

Yes, it was the longer way—but he didn’t let their sandals wear out.

Yes, it was the dryer way—but he gave them water from the rock.

Yes, it was not a straight shot—but he gave them clouds by day and fire by night.

True, there wasn’t much to eat on that desert path—but there was manna from heaven.

When I tell you I am overwhelmed with gratitude, I mean that as I type this I am weeping. God has loved me so well. And I didn’t even know it. I couldn’t even see it. I spent so much time being angry at him for the way he let my life unfold. I didn’t even see the clouds and fire. Yet, he kept leading me and feeding me manna.

While I am sure that my healing journey is not finished—I am not dead yet—the amount of healing that was manifest in my life in the last few weeks has been so substantial, it’s beyond measure. It’s like 40 years of hurt was lifted from me and I was suddenly able to breathe and sleep and digest food again.

I wish so much that the details could all be shared. Alas, at this time, they cannot. However, I want to tell you something clearly:

God’s default position is healing.

Trauma is not our identity. I think so often we can always be in a process of healing, but never healed. We can wind our hurts around ourselves and wear them like a badge. We can color our world in shades of grey to explain why crying comes more naturally than laughing. We can glorify the grit of our lives and forget that maybe, just maybe, we are living the great romance that we always wanted. But, we get bogged down because we are in that part of the story where we are just sure that none of it is going to work out—they are never going to find each other. But thanks be to God of all plot twists, sometimes we are one emotional sappy ugly montage from resolution.

The courage to face the things I have faced in the last few weeks was not available to me before this moment. God gives the grace we need for the moments we need—not often early, but certainly never late.

If you are in the trenches like me, if God is leading you by the long way, if you are wondering if this journey actually has a destination, same. Same.

Maybe that is the most comforting thing to hear: Same. Someone else also following the cloud and fire and drinking water from a rock and believing in a promise land we haven’t yet seen.

Gratitude is what I feel right now. I will pray God gives you that grace when you need it too. We will get there.

Life hacks. Kitchen hacks. Studying hacks. Gardening hacks. Budgeting hacks.

What’s with all the hacks? Are there really any shortcuts when doing anything meaningful? And even if there were hacks, would I actually take them? As previously established, life is inherently inconvenient, but it is precisely that which makes it beautiful. We are all called to do important hard things and sometimes that means going painfully slowly.

Ladder of Divine Ascent
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About two weeks before Lent the questions always begin. “What are you doing for Lent?” ”Got any plans for Lent?” “What are you fasting?” And parish programs promising “The Best Lent Ever” start popping up.

Someone recently came up to me smiling broadly, “It’s almost Lent! Are you as excited as me?”

I paused. Finally I said, “Well, I mean, not particularly.”

“Why?!” she said. “Lent is great!”

“Well, yes. Lent is fruitful. But it is also walking with Jesus in the desert for 40 days. So, things might get rough.”

“No way! I am already living in that Easter Resurrection,” she practically cheered.

I just smiled, not unkindly, and said, “I think you are doing it wrong.”

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This morning in liturgy the phrase “Indeed, religion with contentment is a great gain” (I Timothy 6:6) hit me like a soft pillow to the face. For a moment, I felt like everything would be OK. I felt like at that very moment, should Jesus have given me a vibe check, I would have passed. It was a moment where I felt, “Yeah, it’s actually OK. I am OK, even if things don’t change. I have this! I have this liturgy and this very moment in Jesus’ presence. I’m good.” Of course, the moment was fleeting, as I said. It did not stay, but it did come and for that moment, I understood.

Contentment is a tricky thing, right? Because, I don’t know about you, but contentment usually conjures up feelings of a full belly, a warm fire, someone tender to cuddle up with, and everything feels right with the world.

But, that cannot be what this Scripture means, otherwise it wouldn’t be tied to religion. (Which as Flannery tells us is not a big electric blanket, but the cross.)

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When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
    your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy. (Psalm 94:18-19)

You’ve heard the saying attributed to so many people, I don’t actually know who said it first, to be kind because everyone you meet is fighting an uphill battle. Oh, it shows up on Instagram posts and inspirational coffee cups and the little tags attached to tea bags.

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Unanswered Prayers

What do you think happens to all the audacious prayers you prayed in your reckless overconfidence? Especially the ones you abandoned when it appeared that God didn’t hear you, what happened to those?

Are they kept somewhere, gathering heaven dust? Or are they looked after by your guardian angel like little seeds in a greenhouse whose time hasn’t come yet? (But they are not dead. They are just developing a root system.)

Or maybe they sit in a celestial bank gaining interest, which God will repay. But like a good businessman who knows the market, it’s all about timing.

I can’t believe they are just gone. If what was prayed for was an ultimate good and your intention was true and right and well-ordered, I can’t believe that God just casts aside those hopes or responds with radio silence. Even if the answer was not affirmative to the request, it has to be because there is something better and not something worse or worse yet—nothing at all. To think that God lets the prayers just languish somewhere is inconsistent with the God l love.

He’s a good God. Jesus says if I ask for bread he won’t give me a stone. If I ask for a fish, he won’t give me a snake. But what of these stones and snakes I have? Can I exchange them for bread and fish? Beauty for ashes, oil of joy for mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a faint spirit?

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“God utters me like a word containing a partial thought of himself.” (Thomas Merton)

But am I true to that word? Or do I impose sanctions against myself in an empty attempt to manage myself to my myself and to my world.

Someone recently told that they loved me and I thought, “Do you love me or the version of me I have either presented to you or the one you have crafted yourself in your imagination?” It was an honest question, because I realize that I do not always present my true self. I present part of myself, but not the whole. And while a certain amount of self-censoring may be advantageous to conduct business and be socially acceptable in a general sense, there should be some people with whom you can actually be yourself.

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Technology and social media have this lovely little trick of reminding you exactly what you were doing on this day in past years. These last few days have been interesting to relive.

Last year I was walking through the heartbreaking tragedy of divorce. Divorce can be such an isolating thing, causing a tidal wave of rejection, doubt, regret, and grief. Yet, the memories I am seeing paint a different picture. The picture is of a deep and abiding love. It shows a kind of affection that is perhaps difficult to find in this world. It is a picture of a heavy grace.

The day before Valentine’s Day I went to court and had the mediation that would finalize my divorce. What timing. A friend took me to my lawyer’s office, waited in the car, and when it was over took me lunch. The emotional exhaustion and anxiety caused such a sharp dip in my blood sugar, I was physically shaking.

When I was steady again, I picked up two of my big kids and drove to northern Maine to see another friend. I was so tired I laid on the bed and crashed. When I woke up I realized he had covered me with a blanket. We had a refreshing visit, drinks, and let ourselves laugh.

The next day, Valentine’s Day, I went to a cabin tucked into the woods. My friends wined and dined me. They had a six course meal, paired with drinks and music for each. Their kids were the little waitstaff and we were cozy and joyful and talked freely about our sorrows. They tucked me into bed when the last cocktail went to my head and left a note that said, ”Words cannot describe how much we love you or how much trouble you will be in if you wash the dishes.”

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