It’s been awhile, yes? I know. I never call, never write. I’m sorry. Life has been full and busy, but more than anything, I’ve been holding words close to my heart for the past few months. Sometimes you feel ready to chisel your thoughts into the stone of social media, and sometimes you don’t. Recently, I just haven’t.
Today, though? Thoughts! I’m sharing ’em!
Remember when I launched Project Yes to Life? It came on the heels of my husband’s death when I was reeling with uncertainty and lacking in courage. I read a book that caused me to commit the next year of my life to saying YES to hard things, scary things, exciting things. Some people pushed back a bit and said, “But saying the right ‘no’s” is important, too. And yes. They are correct. In fact, in order to say Yes to anything at all, No to something else is usually necessary. But I have in the past, used No as an excuse to stay stuck and so for me, for 2016, YES was the right word. And I used it, y’all, I really did. I said Yes to all sorts of things including – a six-week sabbatical from my job in 2017. My job graciously allows a sabbatical every seven years. I took one right after Steve died, though it maybe didn’t fit the definition exactly, and I’m taking one now, having just passed the 15-year mark at Westside. I’m now on Day 6 of said sabbatical and I have to say: it’s going great!
My goals for this time are a little squishy right now. Mostly, the plan is to regroup, refresh, probably write, take in new sights and sounds, see the world and Jesus and life from another vantage point. The vantage point I’ve chosen for my time is Florence, Italy. Ever since my first visit in 2011, I’ve wanted to go back and spend significant time there. I had it in my heart to go when I retired, but when I got rolling with the whole Yes situation, I decided I needed to do it now. I booked an apartment last December, and have been waiting anxiously, second-guessing, anticipating, regretting, hoping, dreaming ever since. It really has been a roller coaster of “I’m so excited I’m doing this!” and “Why the heck am I doing this?”
But, now, on the brink of stepping off the map of this city I’ve called home for the past 23 years and into the great unknown, I am nearly 90% Yes. I am nervous, for sure. But I am ready. I am so, so ready.
I’m hoping to document my time away on the blog or Facebook or something that will some day provide me with evidence that I really did do this thing, but I’m also not promising anything right now. I want to live in the day and in the moment and in the gelatto. So, we’ll see. Please don’t be mad at me if I don’t post much. And please don’t be mad at me if I do. Please don’t be mad at me in general. I know what an extraordinary gift it is to be able to travel and to have a job that gives me the time to pursue this dream, and I think there is enough dream-fullfilling power in our Great God to satisfy all of us. All I know for sure is, without Him none of this would be possible and I am so, so thankful.
So, follow along if you’d like to see more pictures of cappuccino than you know what to do with. I hope to share them and to share some bits of what I’m learning, feeling and experiencing as Project Yes to Life goes to Italy.
I love you.
This morning a tattered piece of paper fell from my journal – a prayer I wrote during my husband’s battle with ALS, when I felt my son, who was 11 at the time of diagnosis, was overwhelmed by the sorrow of the situation. I’ve since prayed it so many times over so many different areas of my children’s lives. Praying it always gives me peace, so I thought I’d share it with you, with the hope that your children feel safe in the storms that they face and that you feel safe as you watch them sail.
A Prayer for Josiah
Lord God of Hosts, who is strong like You, Lord? Your faithfulness surrounds You. You rule the raging sea; when its waves surge, You still them. Psalm 89:8-9
The worries of the world rise and rage like a storm
I want to calm it
Or take his place
Or steer his boat
But these seas are his to sail.
Remind me that he is not alone
Because You, O Captain, are strong for the storm
You are surrounded by Your own faithfulness
You, encircled by You, encircling my boy in his boat
You are there when the waves rise
You are there when the waters roar
Before he calls, You answer the winds
Peace, be still
Worry, be quiet
Chaos, be calm
And when he forgets to call, or refuses to call
When fear or pride keeps the words caught in his throat
Knuckles tight around the wheel,
Speak to the storm in him
And give him ears to hear
A heart to respond
And courage to rest.
I have a few questions I ask myself – some daily and some weekly – to make sure I’m emotionally healthy and aligned with God’s purpose for my life on any given day. My overly analytical tendency is to think too far forward and forget to find meaning in the moment, so building a quick self test has been really important.
The handful of questions are very basic. They measure things like how peaceful I feel, how obedient I’ve been, whether or not I’ve stopped to listen to Him and others, etc. But recently I added a question to the metric and it’s made a very big impact on how I view my life’s purpose. The question is this:
Are you having fun right now? If not, why not?
Seriously. That’s the question. And before you yell at your computer screen that sometimes life is hard and suffering is important and we gotta do the difficult, let me say: I agree with all those things. I’ve had a pretty immersive experience in dealing with sadness and doing hard things. But I also believe that those seasons should not be the norm. When the battle is over, we should go on home. And home should – at least in some small way – be fun, or maybe we’re doing it a little bit wrong. Fun should not be the once-annual byproduct of having cleaned up all the messes and eliminated all the negative ingredients. Fun should be had in the very middle of the messes and in rebellion to the negative elements that want to sink our happiness and steal our whimsy.
I have a job I adore, a family I would die for, friends who make my life more rich and full than I ever could have imagined, an amazing boyfriend (**see footnote) and grandkids that are so cute they make my heart do backflips. Most importantly, I am alive in the right-now, right-here good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The seasons of sorrow have been real and treacherous, but they have made me more compassionate, more wise, more rich than I was before. So much is good and right and beautiful in my life that I’m beginning to believe if I’m not having some serious fun living it, then maybe I have bought some kind of of lie that the other shoe is about to drop, or other people have it better or I’m too busy (*see other footnote – it’s a footnote kind of day) to really enjoy it right now or any manner of excuse-making we do when we’d rather stay stuck than change.
It certainly doesn’t need to be your life motto, but it is becoming one of mine: If I’m not having fun, I might be doing it wrong.
Have a really fun Monday!
*I just read this article by Eugene Peterson about The Unbusy Pastor and it was like the best sort of punch in the gut.
**It’s still feels wonky to say “boyfriend” at 51, but “gentleman friend’ seems yet stranger. In fact, let me honestly state that dating is the most weird, whimsical, outrageous, controversial, risky thing I have ever done, and I do not love risks. My life would be so much more ordered and calm and predictable without it but it would also be exponentially less fun and full and happy.
Happy birthday! 55 is such a cool number – I woke up this morning thinking about how we would celebrate this year if you were here. I know what you would want: Your family and a few close friends around you, good food – maybe something Greek – and a good round of golf. Your loves were simple and consistent.
Sometimes I wonder what your life would be like had ALS not interrupted it but my imagination won’t reach very far because it’s impossible to know for sure and because I feel so certain that you completed your mission here on earth so well. I am confident you would love being a grandpa and that those boys would both have golf clubs by now, but beyond that I’m mostly content to replay our best moments in my head, knowing your life is more amazing today than it ever could be here with us.
These past years without you have been long and strange and wonderful and terrifying and beautiful and difficult. It’s been a season of contradictions, where I have felt strong and weak, loved and lonely, confused and certain, scared spitless and profoundly brave. So much of what I knew before, I knew because of you. Our lives were so intertwined that when you flew away home, I sometimes felt that half of me had flown with you. You were such a builder for me. Your patience, encouragement and unfailing kindness built the house that I call My Life. You set the foundation in place for what I know I can do and be. You tethered me to love and in the most selfless act, as you saw your days ending, handed the hammer over to me and constantly reassured me that I could build without you near; that I would survive and grow and become.
Thank you. For sticking with me when it looked so shaky and uncertain. For loving our kids with such quiet strength. For strengthening your friends with determined faithfulness and grace. You were a brilliant builder and you completed your part of the work so well. We promise to keep going. We are building and becoming and I think you’d like what we’ve done with the place. In fact, I know you would.
Riley asked the other day, “When does spring really start in Central Oregon?” I didn’t have a good answer then because this winter has felt endless, but today I think do. Spring starts whenever we decide that winter is over. For me, on this beautiful anniversary of your birth, spring starts today.
So, happy birthday dearest Steve. My greatest joy and honor will always be that I was a witness to your beautiful life.
My life has been relatively public over the past few years. Sometimes I feel like I (and my family) live in a fishbowl with the rest of the world watching. During Steve’s battle with ALS, the number of eyeballs looking into our world multiplied exponentially. The great part about that is it created an army of pray-ers that truly helped to get us through that treacherous season. The challenging part was that those looking in often had opinions about how we should fight, treat symptoms, pray, believe, speak and live. Opinions aren’t bad, but it’s impossible to listen to all of them. My blog readership during that time of our lives varied from 10,000-10 million. Literally, MILLION – not the figurative way I usually use it like “I would like to have a million donuts for breakfast tomorrow.” Again, I’m so thankful for the concern that was expressed and the care shown, but along with that came a lot of feedback which initially shook me to my core. I found myself investing precious time and resources responding to emails of people I had never met or hadn’t spoken to in twenty years, defending our treatment choices or any number of other things. Honestly? I regret every minute I gave to that pursuit. It was entirely unsatisfying and completely unnecessary.
After Steve died, I began facing my new life as a widow and a single woman and I made the very intentional decision that I would not steer my choices toward the cheers or away from the jeers of the crowd. I would invite a few wise and trusted voices into my life, I would tell them EVERYTHING and give them permission to tell me ANYTHING. I would then weigh their counsel together with what I felt the Holy Spirit was saying and I would move confidently in that direction. That is what I have done. I am the one on the field; the only one with the responsibility to actually live out my life in a way that honors God and blesses the world. There are coaches around me who give input – but they are not on the field. And there will always be people in the cheap seats and they are also not on the field, but – wow – they can be pretty dang loud.
These good souls have strong opinions and some of those opinions are built on truth, some on their own experience, some on pure fiction. I could spend a lot of time weighing out the motives of the shouters, I could investigate all their claims, I could stop the action on the field and shout back to them to make sure they understand why I’m doing what I’m doing and how there are so many things of which they are unaware. I could tell them that I really am open to instruction and wisdom and my life is absolutely lived in accountability relationships to good people, just not to ALL people. I could go sit with them awhile and try to convert them to my way of thinking in an attempt to protect my public approval rating. But that sounds exhausting and unproductive and very much like defending the game rather than playing it. Instead, I’ve decided to let the cheap seats be the cheap seats. They have opinions and that’s fine. Their opinions may even turn out to be better than mine and that’s also fine. Jesus is at work in me and He’s not dependent on me getting everything right in order to make my life truly good. I can trust Him, and the people He’s put in my life – and so can the people in the bleachers.
If you also have been swayed by the roar of the crowd, I have a few tips for living true to yourself and your God:
- Identify the voices of influence in your life. Pick a few friends who you will trust with your heart and whose advice you will welcome. How many? I don’t know. More than 1 and less than 20 maybe? I really don’t know. I have different coaching crews for different areas of my life but the weighty voices around me number about a dozen. As I began dating, I invited four women – one who knows both of us – to speak into the entire process, no holds barred. And they have. And I value them more than I can say. I made the decision that unless they all agreed, I would not move forward. I don’t think that’s absolutely necessary for everyone, but I’m glad I had that level of security moving into a new relationship.
- Write down the names of your people of influence. See that list? Draw a circle around it. Seriously – draw the circle. You need it, because everyone outside that circle? Cheap seats. These are not cheap people; they’re mostly wonderful and valuable – they just have faraway seats. You’ll still hear those voices, but you won’t give their opinions the same weight because if you let everyone tell you who to be and what to do and how to do it you will lose your ever-loving mind and you will become unstable in everything you do. If someone from outside my circle expresses an opinion that is particularly intriguing or worrisome to me, I run it through the names inside the circle. I don’t try to figure it out on my own. And so far, that process has worked like a dream and the cheap seats comments have always been tossed.
- Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in dealing with the Cheap’s is to become really, really aware of the fact that for most people, I AM IN THE CHEAP SEATS, TOO. The more you focus on the way you shout your opinions (even inside your own head because you know you do) and the more you realize: Hey, I can just be wildly encouraging here because I don’t have to answer for the way that person plays their game – the more you’ll know how to respond to the weird words that are flung your way.
This has been my year for learning how to love unconditionally and encourage relentlessly, knowing that even if someone is veering off track wildly, I’m too far from the action (and, alas, not omniscient) to give meaningful correction or to understand what’s happening behind the scenes. When I can’t cheer on their decisions, I mostly just cheer the fact that I know the One who is crazy about them will be there if they screw it all up, just like He’s been there when I screw it all up. This is my comfort: We don’t have to be perfect to be loved and accepted and encouraged.
I’ve always said my life goal is to make Jesus proud and famous, but hidden inside that was a third idea – that if I did that just right, people would like me and I am a huge fan of being liked. I like it almost as much as I like donuts and cute shoes. But as I’m beginning to die to the need to please all the voices, I have come newly alive to the voice of the One who holds the world and my world in His hand. I am unendingly grateful for the way He uses the human voices in my life to speak direction and wisdom and joy to me. And I’m thankful for those far from the action – cheering or jeering – because I know God uses them to build my character and to refine my obedience to His will. And He is doing that. I will trust Him with you if you will trust Him with me.