Middle Ground

I’m living in middle ground.” Micha Boyett, author, Found

AWOL [Absent WithOut Leave; didn't return by curfew]

ATL [Asked To Leave, typically due to intoxication or other serious infraction]

LWON [Left WithOut Notice. He told someone he was leaving but no exit plan was made and no staff notified.]

It’s one of the first things I look at in the morning. A night log is placed in my box every day with notations on it as to anything eventful at the Center during the night. There’s only one place I look and that’s the first section that will have names listed of men not returning.

Sometimes those words barely cause a flinch and other times it’s a sadness that settles in my heart. The reasons are different. Most times I am numb to it which is contrary to what we teach. It’s not honorable but it’s how I get through this middle ground of joy and grief.

Joy-filled monthly celebrations marking months and years of sobriety. Happy seeing the inner change become visible as the old is shed like a moth emerging as a butterfly.

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It was J’s first time with us. A tall man with a gentle smile he sat near the front in my bible class.  He was quiet but laughed in the right places, a silent smiling laugh. Were you to see him on the sidewalk, like most of them after a time of rest and good food, you’d be likely to think him a white-collar professional than an alcoholic. He read the scripture one week in chapel. As you’d expect, a quiet reserve.

Next to him name on the night log: LWON. How does a man I barely know cause such sadness in me? I don’t know where he’s from, if he has kids, what kind of work he does, nothing. And still, my heart sighs with knowing he’s gone. Too short a time. It’s not good. Never a good sign.

It’s that middle ground I’m straddling between joy and grief. It’s like standing on the teeter-totter trying to keep it balanced. A shift this way or that, cheers or sorrow.

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2000

It’s the same in all of life this balance of living. Living in the before, where memories comfort and the after, when hope and faith paint a better picture. Living in the now with mama is sad and ugly but living in the after, there I see her restored and whole, her mind sharp as ever and she is released to praise again.

Living in the now is today’s reality. It’s not where I  prefer, at times, but it’s denial that turns away from today. Today is middle ground and I am caught there. Caught between the glossed over past and a future built on faith. Caught in a today that is bright with promise.

grateful yellow


What I learned [so far] this summer

A fun link-up with Chatting at the Sky to share what we’ve learned. Or relearned. Add your lessons here.

Summer started at breakneck pace and then slowed to a lull for July, in time to catch its breath for a big finish in August. Here’s a few things I’ve learned.

1. Turn around plane trips aren’t fun but worth it to show respect to fellow workers and sometimes have an added bonus of meeting new people.

2. You can stand in the middle of the street in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma at 4PM on a Friday without fear of getting hit because there is virtually no traffic.

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Trinity Episcopal church edit

 

bell tower edit

blue dome bldg framed

3. There are also more churches in downtown Tulsa than where I’ve lived. And an odd-looking dome-topped blue building. huh.

4. The best way to remove wallpaper is with a steamer. 

5. Forget the scorer recommended for said wallpaper removal. It doesn’t help. Period.

6. The morning sky is a gift for getting my lazy self out of bed to walk. Evidence of a loving Creator.

morning sun logo

morning palms logo

7. Here’s a new trick I learned for Pinterest. Let’s say you’re interested in Oswald Chambers but, obviously, he isn’t a pinned. Type this into the url: pinterest/explore/oswald-chambers  Everything on Pinterest to do with him will show up. Genius!

8. We are all artists. True.


We are artists

I come from a tribe of women who were artists but in their time, art was necessity. Quilts were lined with feed sacks and used to keep warm. Today, I hang them on the wall as art.

When Granny didn’t need to make quilts anymore she crocheted tiny purses for my Barbie. The other women-folk said her lemon meringue was the best ever and just how did she get that meringue right every time?

Mama could whip up a meal without ever looking at a cookbook or recipe. Her shopping list in her head and before you knew it all was dished up and on the table. Just get out of her way when she was creating. That’s an art form to me.

She was even good with a camping stove

She was even good with a camping stove

thread basket

 

paint brushes and pens

 

 

 

Somewhere along the way, I separated arts from crafts and determined the crafting part was lesser. Not worthy of the ‘artist’ label. So what if you had a pattern to dictate how many rows to crochet or a picture to help you decide colors? It’s still your hand holding the that crochet hook or hand putting brush to paper . It’s your fingers typing out the words and your voice singing full-throated from the music written by another. Is this less?

Another lie I’ve swallowed whole. Another one I’ve allowed to determine I’m not ___________ (fill in the blank).

Loved by God, and I still believe the world.

“Aren’t we all artists? When we open ourselves to the world and welcome all the beautiful and terrible things and we do not let it destroy us? That is when the magic happens. Holly Grantham in SheLoves Magazine

Belief is a choice and I’m believing these affirming words from Holly. Claiming that title artist for myself. And you? Care to make some art with me? Let’s get all the colors out and swirl them around with our fingers because sometimes art is messy. It gets under your fingernails and even after you’ve washed your hands you find that blue spot near your wrist. Ah, it’s the best!

paints tag

 

color swirls

Let’s set our tables and invite friends who stay too long because the laughter is so rich.

Let’s listen to the stories of others and cry and rejoice with them. Then let’s share our own stories. Type them out word for agonizing word and believe they matter because they do.

This is the kind of mess I find satisfying. When the beautiful and terrible collide and the terrible does not destroy but somehow, and it can only be grace, this becomes art.


Five-Minute Friday {finish}

 

The line has been set for them. It’s clearly marked, family and friends at the end waiting to congratulate those crossing the finish line.

Some have trained for this. They know the measure, how long they’ll walk or run. They know the course before them and they set out to reach their goal.

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Some tasks, some goals have a clear end in sight. A defined beginning and end. Many do not.

I thought her life would head toward its finish line spending more time with her family. Longer visits than the standard week. Visits to our side of the country that would find us exploring more places and doing more projects and sharing life like we’ve never been able to as adults.

To see her now, many would say her life is finished. Alzheimer’s continues to ravage her mind and this woman who gave birth to me, this woman who was recognized by her community for her years of service to the marginalized, this woman’s life as we knew it is gone.

with a special guest at a church event

before Alzheimer’s

 

She lives in a caring place with others suffering this mean disease.  When people ask how she’s doing we say “content” because she is.

My heart knows that my mama is not there. And my heart hopes there is still more meaning to her existence. That God allows her breath because even in this state that seems to hold little value, His work is not done.

She has ‘run a good race’ as the Word tells us. But she is not done.

Linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker for her Five-Minute Friday blog party. She provides the word prompt and says GO. We write, mostly unedited, and mostly within 5 minutes. Yikes! To join in, click here.


Happy

We played that song. You know, the happy one. The song that is humming through the background of everyone’s life these days? It’s bouncy and snappy and, well, happy. So we played that song in the chapel full of men, in their seats 5 minutes before our Tuesday night recovery meeting. This is when we play funny clips or bloopers or photo’s of them at a recent event or celebration. This is the time at the end of a long day they sit feeling a bit drowsy from a full belly from dinner and a fresh shower to wash off the work day heat.

I bounced and clapped and mouthed the words, hoping to coax them to be, or at least act, happy. Some returned the begged collaboration, some marveled (my interpretation) at my complete silliness, and bravery to display such and others remained unmoved. Externally at least. Unfazed, untouched, resilient to the ebullient mood around them.

12 Traditions play

 You can’t make me. Go ahead and try. And if you even make a dent in my heart I’ll not show it until later. Alone, when you won’t see you touched that part of me that was tender.

storm clouds

We can be made to go to meetings, get up at a certain time, stop at red lights and tuck our shirts in. We know the consequences of not following certain rules and we know the risks. But no one can make us happy. Our feelings can’t be mandated no matter how silly the person in front of you is being or how dang happy that song is.

Someone sat in front of us one day and said, “I just want you to be happy.” We weren’t sad, still, he felt he had the ability to make us happy. We ignored his statement. Until later, when a question went unanswered and I said, “You know what would make me happy? For you to answer the question.” He fell silent. Had he answered the question, my happiness was not in his hands. That’s on me.

12 Traditions play

What would it look like if we could make someone happy? For a moment, I suppose it would be fun. Smiles from everyone and that carefree air that often comes with the feeling.

But feelings flee and turn and faster than a snap of the fingers the bright bold color of happy is turned gray. That fast. Feelings are like that.

So I’ll take my happiness, thank you. I’ll be responsible for it and do my best to share it in hopes it can brighten the places I walk. But I know it’s your choice to join me or not. I know it’s just for a moment sometimes. Happiness is a feeling. But joy? Ah, joy goes all the way through the soul and stays there. Good or bad, joy is with me. Joy is more than a feeling. It’s a promise.

What does your happy look like? Where have you found your joy?

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:22-23 NLT


Let’s do this!

The tea kettle whistles. I’ve let it go too long. I try to catch it before that point. Now I’ll have to let the tea cool longer. I don’t know how others can drink theirs scalding hot. No, this will take some time to cool.

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I’ve fumbled my allergy pills and the vitamin bottle and the thought flashed through my mind, “it’s going to be one of those days.” NO followed just as quickly. No. I won’t let it. Why am I so quick to give over a whole day to fumbling because of this?

Have you done that? Do you do that? You give over to less than because it’s Monday and you know, it’s Monday, it’s not suppose to be good.

Traffic is slowed, you get caught by a train, then it starts to rain slowing things down more and now you’re late. What next? you wonder aloud.

Some days we give in to it. Some days we don’t. Today, let’s don’t. 

Don’t give in to the critics in our head saying we aren’t smart enough, thin enough, young enough.

Don’t give in to the negative voices that threaten to drown your joy. Smile in the face of their gloom.

Don’t let circumstance determine your mood. You get to choose. Choose joy. Choose purpose. Choose determination.

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Some days are daring us to give in. And some days we can. Some days we retreat and give our souls time to rest. But not today. Today we do this. Today we do this together because we need each other cheering us on. You can do this. I know it. We’ve got you on this. On this day that wants to win, we’re cheering you on to be victor.

Put on that playlist that makes you dance. 

Smile at strangers.

Let someone go in front of you in traffic. You’ll feel like the winner. Trust me on this.

When the storm clouds gather, and they will down here, dance in the rain. [But respect the lightning ;)]

YAY YOU! You’ve got this I know it.


His story called Grace

She was laid up sick for days a few months ago. She hadn’t been that sick since her heart surgery a few years back. That was rough, she said. But she was thankful for her sweet husband who took care of her. Not like her first husband. That was a mistake, she said. “I went from the frying pan right into the fire on that one, trying to get away from my mama. But I have me the best husband. He can’t work, disabled. So he takes care of the house, does the cooking and takes care of me and I work.”

Her name tag says Mary. I stepped in her line because she seems to like her job and moves along at a decent pace. Mary, who is well into her retirement years showing up with her face and hair made up for her business attire, her red shirt and khaki pants. She slipped the last of my groceries in the bags and I took home food and Mary’s story.

lighthouse top framedI have a beacon. That’s what Henry tells me. A beacon that flashes calling out to random strangers “talk to me”. Often times it’s my fault. I smile and apparently that’s an invitation for people to stop in the middle of an aisle and tell me they get wrong numbers on their cell phone all the time because some company must have had that number before. I looked around to see who this woman was talking to only to find no one but me.

mom with boy in ocean

toddler beach boy

toddler wading

The young mom carried her toddler son and put their towels down on the sand near us. She slipped his water wings on and introduced him to the ocean. Kids always capture my attention and he was so fun to watch. They came back to their towels where she tried to get him to sit next to her but he was having none of it. He found a plastic lid that became his scoop for the sand which he poured on to his legs and on to the towel. We laughed a little too loud and she looked our way with a smile as he did it again. We carried on back and forth while her little one chattered away unclear words bringing smiles all around.

For that moment, our stories intersected. Just like they do with the men in our Center. Our stories crossing and merging until we realize we’re part of a bigger story and it’s God’s story. A story about people. Messed up, empty, disobedient, unfaithful, lost and weary. He invites us to his story called Grace.

Mary name tag

It’s my regular Target and maybe Mary will share more of her story with me one day. I just have to get in her line.


Five-Minute Friday {bloom}

I suppose anyone can be a gardener. Though not me. It’s not the lack of a green thumb but lack of attention or lack of priority. The one indoor plant that has managed to survive us more than a year sits where I see it daily yet only remember to water it when it droops, it’s silent cry for nourishment. I’m only now remembering it has had blooms on it in the past, probably when it was sent to us and maybe it would again if I did more than water it. Some kind of plant food, I suppose.

This does not come natural to me so I plead to not having that mythical green thumb. My mother-in-law did and tried to will it into my being but it can’t be grafted like I hear some plants can. Still, those with that natural bent can’t seem to understand how my tribe can’t master the plants they give us saying, “really, you can’t kill this”.

I understand the concept of gardening and I get the metaphors. How soil has to be prepared and seeds planted. There is care and tending that goes into it and that’s where I fail. My attention leaping ahead to the final product.

Though in people, I do enjoy the process. Not the pruning part, that’s never fun. But the tending and nurturing. The watching of the growth. I am content to wait. Not for my growth, mind you, but others. Surely this is where God delights. We are His garden

Sunflowers

 

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sunflowers

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First, the small, tight bud. In time (and with trust), it (we) opens and reveals. Colors unique to each flower, edges imperfectly perfect, small and large all glorious. All strong. All turning toward the sun (and the Son).

It is here we bloom.

Linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five-Minute Friday party where a whole big bunch of bloggers wait for Lisa-Jo to give us a word and say “GO”. To join in, click here.

 


For a friend

We have never met but her pain has touched my heart.

She reached out to me in an email, “can you help me tell my story? Maybe in that blog thing like you did for Laura? It just hurts so much.”

around the lake  flowers

I think of the pain of losing a spouse and I can’t touch it. I’ve had loss but not that. Not the one who fills the space next to you each night. The one you reach out to find warmth but find emptiness and the emptiness inside is bigger than place he filled in bed.

It is her pain and it is crushing. A life too young, taken too quick. It was just some back pain, probably a pulled muscle. The diagnosis: stage 4 cancer. A year later his place next to her in their bed is empty.

around the lake

around the lake  on Lake Junaluska

There are no words to offer that can fill that hole or soothe that soul. We know time is the healer but we don’t know how we’ll get through the time.

Three months he’s gone. Before, family came from out-of-state to be close, be together and it held her pieces from scattering in the winds. Now they are gone, back to their lives and it’s a cold urn she clings to in the night when she needs to feel something that is him.

I don’t know this broken woman. I think Glennon’s word ‘brutiful’ fits here: a broken and brutal beauty. That is what this aching woman is. She is screaming inside and wants to scream out loud: IT HURTS SO BAD. I HURT SO BAD.

around the lake  around the lake

We hear your hear, dear one. We hear your soul cries and we hold your words dear and tender. We don’t need to know you face to face to know your anger and pain. Your grief is real and crushing. You are caught in the rip current of grief and the only way to escape a rip current is to swim with it. If you try to swim to the shore, against the current, it will pull you down. Swim with it my friend. Relax your body so the water can carry you. Know the water is the love of Jesus not abandoning you but allowing you to float to safety. He is carrying you through the rolling tide.

Written with permission and input from Melissa Hale. Please pray for this dear sister as she continues finding God’s grace and peace in her storm of loss. 


How are you today? (please, just say “good”.)

She was the kind of girl who didn’t know that the proper answer to the greeting, “How are you today?” was a simple, “Fine, thank you.”

At 17, her answers tended toward ailments and bold statements like “my cervix hurts”. I’m not even joking. After a few of these revealing answers to my polite nicety I stopped asking. I didn’t want to know the details of her life. A teenager in a handful of teens we had in this small congregation and I didn’t want to know the drama that lay behind her openness.

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Our landscape of ministry has changed and now it’s men I pass in the Center, politely saying “How’s it going?” as I never break stride in my walk. We answer “good” to one another as we move on to our destination which is not finding out how the other is actually doing.

One of the counselors doesn’t allow them to answer “good” when she poses that question. They’ve hidden behind that word and many other things and it’s time for honesty to take root in all aspects of their lives so let’s start with the basics: How are you doing today?

Panera

I value transparency and vulnerability but I have trouble finding the line. The line between over-sharing and being real. Or the line between nice and abrupt. And the other line between honesty and politeness.

One man answers, “Can’t complain” and I quip, “You can, but no one wants to hear that.” Truth.

It’s easier to be open, to be vulnerable in writing. Or in the dark. I learned that as a kid. We didn’t speak of serious things in the open. I would write a note and slip it in mama’s purse saying I needed more “feminine products”. And she would silently place them in the bathroom. No words shared.

Sometimes writing feels like saying it in the dark. No faces staring at me and hiding behind a blog title with distance between. Comments are faint words shared in the dark of cyberspace so they are safe. I can be real here. Mostly.

baby on beach edit

3 generations

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I can feel when one is being true, authentic. I feel if their words of praise are glossy varnish or the worn patina of life. Real is what I want to show and why I fumble at times. Those business events that demand I be nice and not so real because real is rude so I fake it and wonder if it shows. Plastic me, performing. That’s a heart issue, I can assure you.

It’s important for me to show the scars from old wounds and hurts, the fatigue that comes from stubbornness. It matters that those around us know we haven’t been spared pain and sorrow because we bear the label “Pastor” or “Christian”. But I dance around the ‘how much’ sometimes.

Do I share details of why my father threatened to disown my 18-year-old self or are those words enough? Will confession of shame and bad decisions and poor choices, will acknowledging sin in my life make me real enough without the gory details?

How much is too much me and not enough grace, not enough Him?

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It helps to go slow. To listen to the prompts within. To trust His voice and His time. I learning, growing, stumbling and getting back up.

I heard their murmurs when they saw I was wearing a pair of Chucks. I heard the word “bobo” uttered and spun around to give a glare, a smiling one, of course. “Fakes? You think I’m wearing fake Converse? I don’t do fake, guys.”

Or do I?

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Linking up with SheLoves Magazine for their July link-up for their theme Authentic. Click here to read other posts. 


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