When I Grow Up

Life is a roller coaster, isn’t it? I love roller coasters. I love the build of anticipation, the adrenaline rush, the unexpected, and the thrill. Oddly enough, I don’t appreciate unpredictability when it comes to life. I didn’t dream much about adulthood as a kid. I never planned my wedding or built my dream house in my mind, but I assumed adulthood would bring some level of predictability and stability. HA!

These last few months have been a whirlwind of unpredictability. I guess you could say the last 34 years have been the same. In the last five years alone, I have moved to Orlando, gone back to school, changed careers, dated, met my husband, married, and am now in the process of trying to figure out what it is I want to do with my working hours as a functioning adult who contributes to society.

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Before Tim started his first week as a contract digital designer for Walt Disney Corporation (I just love saying that), we spent a Saturday in our pajamas doing two things he loves to do: watching old movies and building Legos. This is the part where I confess that never, in a TRILLION years, did I ever expect to marry a man in his forties who loves to build Legos. But you know what? It is one of the many things I adore about my husband. He is meticulous and creative, visionary and attentive to details. He sees what could be, and dreams “God sized dreams”, as one of my friends says. He uses Legos to expand his creativity and see blank space as it could be, rather than how it is.

So when he wanted to spend a lazy Saturday watching 1960s James Bond movies (because, let’s be honest, Sean Connery is the only true James Bond) and building a Lego City set, I obliged. Don’t get me wrong – I like Legos just fine. I do believe, however, that they are the herpes of children’s toys. They hurt, they pop up in odd places, and they never quite disappear, but I don’t mind building a house or two. I like visiting the Lego Store in Disney Springs because I can sit at a table and create whatever my imagination can dream up. I don’t generally enjoy following instructions, but I don’t know how to build an intricate hospital out of tiny blocks, so I used the instructions to build the hospital, helicopter, and ambulance for our Lego city. I had to take breaks to stand up and walk around, and I was not able to focus as long or as intently as Tim could, but I finished my sets.

While we built a mini-city, we talked about a lot of things, but mostly about what is to come. Tim would be starting a new job, I would be ending one. New adventures were on the horizon, and I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Is this who I wanted to be when I grew up?”

I started thinking about all of the questions most of us seek answers to as children and teenagers: what will I look like, be like, be doing, who will I be with, when I grow up? What will life look like 10, 15, 20, 50 years from now?

After processing some of this with Counselor Bob (see previous post about being back in counseling for myself), I came to see that I am pretty happy with who, and where, I am right now in life. Nothing is perfect, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions, but for the first time in 34 years I can say I am pretty happy to wake up in my skin, to look at myself in the mirror, and to confidently offer myself to others on any given day. Just like everyone else, I have my good days and bad days, but I have an overarching sense of comfort and contentment with who I am and where I am in life.

I think most of us would say we want to be “happy” when we grow up, but I learned a long time ago that happy is fleeting. New shoes can make me happy, for a moment. But new shoes don’t bring joy, and that is what I feel today. Joy. If I could go back and talk to 8, 10, 15, 20 year old me, I would say “forget happiness”. Happiness is nice, but it is short-lived and usually pretty superficial. Shoot for the people and experiences that bring joy, because joy can be felt through sadness, pain, grief, and even anxiety. Joy is more sustaining, and it runs deeper than feeling happy for a moment or two.

Today, I feel more than happy with the woman I have become as a “grown up” (some people would debate whether I meet that criteria or not). I feel joy. And I look forward to seeing who I will become when I grow up even more, because we all have room to grow up a little.

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Livin’ on a Prayer

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The past few weeks have been increasingly difficult in so many ways. As I approach my last day in jail, I find myself more and more emotional over leaving the women who have been such a large part of my life over the last three years. As Tim’s job search has stretched on, I find myself more and more stressed out over finances, schedules, commitments, and boundaries. As the holidays draw near I find myself more and more torn over how and where to spend our time and our resources. And life still happens and the world still turns, and each day brings a new adventure.

When we were on the road from Orlando to Memphis a couple of weeks ago, Tim was offered a job in South Florida that would require us to relocate, and quickly. It was our only offer at the time, and it would have been really easy to take it just for the sake of an immediate paycheck. After a lot of prayer and counsel, we decided to turn it down. At the same time, Tim had been interviewing with a certain company that is represented by an iconic Mouse, but we were days or weeks away from hearing a response from them. We decided to take the risk. We turned down the job in South Florida, and prayed for patience, wisdom, and discernment as we waited to hear from the larger opportunity.

Y’all, this was REALLY hard. In my mind, I thought that if we just remained patient and faithful to what we knew was right, that the answers would come immediately. But this didn’t happen. Tim contracted the flu, the phone didn’t ring, and our mutual stress levels continued to rise. I would break down, Tim would break down. We prayed with friends and family and waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Last Thursday, Tim and I were running errands together and his phone rang. He shuffled to find it in his pocket, and I made the comment that I get nervous every time his phone rings, waiting for good news. Or bad news. Or any news at all! It was a spam call (Why are we still getting these?), so he put his phone away. It rang again moments later, but this time, the recruiter he has been working with was on the other end.

Tim had a short-term contract offer from the company for which we’d been waiting. As soon as I heard the words, I burst into tears. Yes, it is a 30-90 day contract for hire, and there are no guarantees of full-time placement beyond that, but it was a clear answer to prayer, and Tim accepted.

We both shed tears, and prayed prayers of gratitude. We contacted family and friends who have been praying for us relentlessly for MONTHS. It was a moment of joy, relief, gratitude, and hope. We know we aren’t out of the woods yet, but this is a massive next step in Tim’s career. And I am so incredibly proud of him, of how hard he has worked, and how patient he has been during this process.

The next day, we were on the way home from meeting the Hudspeth family at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and our first dance wedding song started to play in car. We danced to “Prayer ’94”, the acoustic version of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” at our wedding. I grabbed Tim’s hand and started crying again. When we danced to this song at our reception, I had no idea how much the lyrics would foreshadow what we would go through over the first four months of marriage – that Tim would lose his job, that I would work as much as possible to make ends meet, that some days we would literally survive on prayer because we had nothing left in us after the fear and insecurities and stress and doubt set it.

So we now know where we are supposed to be, at least for now. Tim will go to work for one of the most respected companies in his industry (in any industry, for that matter), and get to use their tools and assets and technology while producing work that will be seen by millions. We get to stay in Orlando with the people who have loved us both so well over the last several years through moving, career changes, meeting, dating, engagement, and marriage. And we will continue to trust – to trust each other, to trust the Lord, and to trust this crazy process of life, which never ceases to amaze me.

For now, we will continue to live on a prayer.

Back on the Couch

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I think counselors have to be crazier than anyone to do what we do. I don’t mean crazy in the pejorative sense of the word, but crazy in the sense of “out-of-the-box” or willing to do what is awkward and uncomfortable way. That said, most people who become counselors and therapists have struggled with their own demons in life, which inspires them to want to help others. At least, that’s my story.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my own health as a large factor in my ability to help others. This lead me to a point where I realized I needed to be back on the couch, in need of some counseling myself. One of the hard parts of being a counselor, though, is that most of my friends are counselors and I can’t go to a friend for counseling because they won’t be objective. I don’t want to go to a friend of a friend for counseling either because the lines start to get muddled. As my options were thinning, I decided to ask someone I have come to know and respect who he would recommend for counseling. This man, who works for an international NGO, has been kind of enough to sit with me through a tough period of transition and questioning in all areas of life. He is honest, vulnerable, and very witty. He earned my trust and respect quickly, so I knew if he could recommend a counselor, that I would probably be in good shape.

He recommended his own counselor, and told me to give the guy a call. So I did, and three weeks ago I found myself on the other side of the therapist’s chair, across from a 72 year old man named Bob who was one of the first counselors in town back in the early 1980’s. He’s a quiet man who has seen a lot in his life. I didn’t know much about him, so I sat down in his office ready to spill my guts and give him the proper rundown of things. I had my opening speech all prepared. I was going to tell him what I do every day, which therapists I have seen in the past, what therapeutic methods and interventions I have experienced myself, what I have learned, and where I needed to do some work. I even had an argument made up in my head on the benefits of Gestalt methodology verses a more psychoanalytic approach. In short, I was ready to tell this man what I needed and how to do his job.

And, as usually happens when I think I know what I am doing, this man sweetly disarmed me and all of my speeches. No sooner had he closed the door than he looked at me with soft eyes and said, “So how did you get here?”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. Did he want me to tell him that I drive a 20 year old Honda CrV? Did he want me to tell him that I took University to Hall to 436 to get to his office? So I cocked my head, and asked for clarification. “How did you get to where you are today in life?” And that was all that it took to turn me to a puddle of emotive mush, melting into my tears on his aged, leather sofa.

For the next hour, I poured my heart out. I said things I didn’t even know I felt. I realized I had been trying to “hold it together” for so many people for so long, I had forgotten how to be aware of my own feelings. He said he heard pain in my words, and he walked over to this large bookshelf and stuck out his left arm. He placed one large book in his open palm and said, “My arm can handle this.” He added another book. “My arm can even handle this.” He added a third book and said, “My arm is starting to get shaky.” He added a fourth book, and his arm fell to his side as the books tumbled to the floor.

“Lindsey, do you know why I dropped the books? Because I was in pain. The pain reminded me that my arm can only hold so much weight, and under too much weight, it buckled and gave way to gravity. Lindsey, pain isn’t your enemy. Pain tells you something very important. It tells you when something is broken, and reminds you when you’ve reached your limit.”

It was what I was dreading to hear, yet it was exactly what I needed to hear. I needed someone to validate my pain, but I also needed someone to remind me that I am not, in fact, Wonder Woman. (Apparently adopting the motto WWDPD – What Would Diana Prince Do – doesn’t make one immortal or impenetrable. Huh. Go figure.)

So for the last three weeks, Bob and I have been naming and wrestling with pain and fear, fear and pain. And I hate it. But I love it. Because I need it. Just when I think I can pull one over on Bob, he looks me in the eye and says, “What’s going on in there?” and I am caught. And we talk about the fact that I am watching the clock as if I am the therapist, or trying to control the conversation. Sometimes I make Bob chuckle. I will say something he’s never heard before, or say something less-than-kosher and he can’t help but laugh. But he always brings me back to center.

Sometimes Bob says “Thank you” in the middle of a conversation, and, at first, I wasn’t sure who he was thanking. I finally realized that sometimes, Bob stops to thank God for the conversation we are having and for our time together. Normally I would write this off as a hyper-spiritual act and roll my eyes, but it is one of the things I really admire about Bob. He just is who he is. He doesn’t try to be anyone else. And he is good at it. He is good at tempering this feisty, stubborn, overwhelmed woman who is deathly afraid of fear and pain.

I am thankful that there are people like Bob who are willing to sit with people like me – people who have patience beyond my understanding, and a wealth of experience from which to draw life’s wisdom. Today, I am thankful.

The Economy of Fear

I had to take several economics courses in college for my major. I actually enjoyed macro-economics, the study of economic system philosophies and trends over time. I wrote a lot of papers on different economists who each believed they had the answer to failing economies, and discussed economic policy differences in group class projects. I could do theory all day, but when it came time to tackle the practicality of micro-economics, I failed miserably. I believe I passed that semester with a C-, or maybe even a D. The frustrating part was that I worked really, really hard in that class. I spent hours in the library running through modules and practice tests, trying to wrap my head around something I just couldn’t seem to understand. I sought out the professor during office hours, tutoring, peer help, and nothing seemed to stick. Numbers have never been “my thing”, but I thought I could at least handle lemons and plums and – wait, why are we talking about fruit in this class?

What I have come to learn in business and in personal matters is that there are economic systems in place that have nothing to do with money. For example, the advertising and marketing industry thrives on an economy of shame. The statement “You are not ____________ enough” sells billions of dollars in clothes, shoes, weight loss products, jewelry, accessories, automobiles, plastic surgery, and stuff I have never even heard of before. Make people believe they need something to complete who they are as a person, and it will create a demand, which will drive supply, which will bring in the big bucks. It doesn’t even have to work! If you constantly tell people that they are overweight, then tell them that being overweight is unattractive, then offer a solution such as apple cider vinegar or garcinia cambogia, then spin it around Instagram with a clever hashtag, millions of bottles will be sold before anyone realizes that this product does nothing. (I may or may not have fallen for that one…)

I have tossed and turned in bed for two weeks straight now, wrestling with the anger, sadness, and confusion that seem to have moved in somewhere in my gut and just won’t take a vacation. I have been reading like crazy, trying to understand those who use fear as a form a currency. I talk to a lot of twenty-somethings who, I now realize, have been raised in fear. For those born in the mid to late 90s, they were told be afraid to check the mail (anthrax), afraid of terrorists (9/11), afraid of Islam (following 9/11), afraid of Afghanistan/Iraq/Iran, afraid of school shootings, afraid of movie theater shootings, afraid of bombings, afraid of politicians, afraid of the news, afraid of fake news, afraid of police, afraid to be black, afraid to be white, afraid to be conservative, afraid to be liberal, afraid to be gay, afraid to be straight, and to be afraid to gather in any public place for fear of being shot for no reason at all.

It’s one thing to take advantage of people’s financial currency, but what happens when someone manipulates emotional currency? Fear is amorphous. It can’t be generally defined or contained. Each person experiences fear of different things in different ways. Fear is, however, powerful, and when used against people it is incredibly dangerous.

I believe the opposite of fear is love. Loves includes, embraces, invites, and heals. Fear sets apart, shuts down, and can evoke an animalistic response from even the most emotionally intelligent man or woman. Some fear is good. If a large, venomous snake is staring me in the face, I SHOULD be afraid! But many people I talk to are afraid of the “what if’s”, the “maybe’s”, and the “I don’t know’s”. One of my favorite poets, Shel Silverstein, sums it up eerily and beautifully in his poem, Fear:

Barnabus Browning
Was scared of drowning,
So he never would swim
Or get into a boat
Or take a bath
Or cross a moat.
He just sat day and night
With his door locked tight
And the windows nailed down,
Shaking with fear
That a wave might appear,
And cried so many tears
That they filled up the room
And he drowned.

This economy of fear runs the risk of becoming so crippling, that we become imprisoned by our fear of fear itself. Whether it is out of evil or just ignorance, people have figured out how to use fear to rob us of the freedom to experience life fully. It is your choice and mine to decide what to do with our fear. Do I let fear keep me from going to concerts, sporting events, movies, or from leaving my house at all? Do I let fear control my life just as Barnabus Browning did? Or do I push through to fear and continue to live in a way that allows me to thrive, as opposed to just surviving?

These are the questions that have been keeping me up at night. And I have to admit, I am really, really tired. But I believe they are important questions – questions that affect our relationships, our children (born or unborn), and every detail of life.

I guess the conclusion I have reached, for now, is that I get to choose whether or not I let others control me with the currency of fear. And today, I say “no” to that.

A Change Is Gonna Come

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Tim and I have been in an intense season of transition since we met and started dating. A few months after our first date, I moved out of my house and into a safe house for women. Six months after that, I needed to move again. Six months after that, Tim and I were married. Two weeks after that, Tim lost his job. For the last three months, we have lived in a constant state of unknowing. As Tim applies for jobs all over the country, it has become increasingly clear to both of us that I have been burning the wick from too many ends, and have reached a level of physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological burnout that is not healthy for our marriage, the people with whom I work, or the future of our little family (Just to clarify: I am NOT pregnant. I can’t wait to be, but I am not right now!). While I had hoped to continue working in the jail and for our church for years to come, it has become increasingly clear that this is currently not sustainable or healthy for me or us.

So I have six weeks left in jail, at least for now and in a professional capacity. I will probably cry every time I am in jail for the next six weeks, and for several weeks afterwards. The only thing I have ever been proud of quitting is smoking, so this is not going to be an easy transition for me. It also comes in the midst of so many other potential transitions for Tim and I as a couple. In the days following my decision to resign from ministry leadership in jail, Tim was offered a freelance job as well as two very promising job interviews. I was offered the opportunity to increase my contract counseling client load. God continues to provide.

During a season in which I would REALLY like some clarity, I am reminded of the words written by Frederick Buechner in one of his memoirs. I believe it was Telling the Truth, but it could have also been The Sacred Journey. In his older age, Buechner admits to praying for clarity for most of his life, especially in times of uncertainty. One day he experiences a catharsis in his prayer life, and asks God to give him what he needs more than clarity, which is trust. That prayer has stuck with me for the last three or four years. What would it look like for me to experience trust instead of a persistent and desperate wish for clarity and answers?

I think it would look like living with open hands as opposed to clenched fists. Do you know how spider monkeys are caught in the wild? Poachers and hunters put out baskets with fruit in them, which will inevitably draw the attention of the tiny monkeys. The spider monkey can’t resist the treat, so it reaches in to grab the fruit, only to realize that it cannot remove its hand from the container while still gripping the fruit. The monkey is faced with a common dilemma: Let the prize fruit go and escape to freedom, or clench the fruit tightly and be caught and imprisoned as a result.

How often do I refuse to live with the big question mark because I just can’t let go of the thing I *think* I need in the moment? How ignorant am I when I don’t see that the fleeting things I cling to so tightly – comfort, consistency, familiarity – are actually the things that are keeping me from living a full life?

This week I challenge myself to embrace the big, fat question mark. I don’t know what the next few days, weeks, months, or years will bring (really, do any of us?) but I hope I am able to face them with open hands and a trusting heart, which will free me up to experience all that the unknown has to offer.

Open Hands

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I have been in purge mode lately, cleaning and clearing out my belongings for various reasons. For the last 16 years, I have moved a lot and have accumulated A LOT of stuff. As my husband will now tell you, my packing style is one I inherited and it looks like throwing loose items into laundry bins and boxes and moving them around for a long time. Now that Tim and I live together and share a small space, I am in the process of actually LOOKING through those bins and boxes and trying to decide what can stay and what needed to go a long time ago.

I have found many interesting items during the Great Purge of 2017. Some of these items include obsolete technology accessories, funny notes from friends long gone, and books I forgot I had even read. In one box, I found a folded up stack of papers and decided to read through them. The stack unveiled a talk I had given in jail a few years ago during a three-day weekend retreat called REC, which is hosted in jails across the country a couple of times a year. The weekend involves a series of talks and group discussions, and this particular weekend I had been asked to give the talk on living life as a single woman. While I was honored to be asked, I was also very frustrated that I still qualified to give this talk. I had given the same one on various spiritual weekends in Memphis over the years, and thought that the one I gave in my mid-twenties would be my last. As I prepared to give it again in a jail as a 31 year old, I found myself discouraged and kind of angry that life had not turned out the way I wanted it to by that point.

Today, as a married 34 year old, it is incredible to me to look back at what I felt and thought a few short years ago. I was a lot smarter than I gave myself credit for, and should have taken my own advice. Sometimes I forget the details of the journey I have been on these last three decades, and I forget what God has done in my life. I forget all of the times He has provided, protected, and shown incredible mercy. I need these reminders today as Tim and I face so many unknowns. I guess sometimes we need not look further than our own stories to glean wisdom and insight into the truths of this world.

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July, 2015 Female Detention Center, Orange County Jail

Nearly a decade ago, I was asked to give this very talk to a group of teenage girls in Memphis, TN. The setting was very different. I was in my early twenties, I was standing in a very cushy youth room looking at a large of group of very wealthy, privileged Suburban girls, and I promised myself I would never be in a place to give the Single Life talk again.

Tada! God and I do not have the same sense of humor.

While life didn’t turn out the way I had planned (really, does it ever?), I am actually very honored to be talking to you about what it looks like to live as a Christian who is single, divorced, widowed, dating, or just wrestling with the idea of love and sex. Living life as a single man or woman requires immense trust as well as the courage to live with desire. Before I gave my life to Christ, I lived with distrust and fear instead of faith and courage. What I learned as a child and young woman fueled what I believed about God and myself, and I acted according to those beliefs.

Being single isn’t just about sex, though our sexuality is a large part of who we are. In the book God Loves Sex by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, we learn that “God created us as sexual beings. Sexuality is an important part of the human experience. This statement is true of young and old, male and female – in short, everyone who breathes.” So if God loves sex so much, why does he ban me from having it right now? If he gave me these desires, why hasn’t he given me a husband yet to share that part of myself with in a way that is pleasing to the Lord?

Psalm 84:12 tells us that the man who trusts the Lord is blessed. But what if you have never been able to trust the people around you, much less the Lord? I learned from an early age the people are not safe, and that trusting is dangerous. I had no idea that there was a God who could actually be trustworthy, and that He cared about my deepest desires and fears.

As a child, I avoided trusting by living in a fantasy world. With one parent consumed by addiction, and another parent wrapped up in fear, I was left to my own devices and I built a dream world around me where I was the queen and everyone else was just background noise. I would dream my days away, making my own rules, and imagining characters for my stories. I didn’t need to trust anyone because I imagined my little world and I was in charge.

As a teenager, my world shifted from fantasy to fear. In order to deal with the chaos of our family, the confusion of my world, and the reality of being a teen girl, I became a performer and a perfectionist. If I couldn’t control other people, I would control everything I did. I didn’t have faith or trust because I found a way to control everyone and everything around me, or so I thought.

In my twenties, fear gave way to shame. I didn’t feel that anything I did or said mattered to anyone, so I began to act as if I didn’t matter. I lived in a haze of pills, alcohol, sex, and parties. I drowned my shame in anything that would remove my ability to feel. I believed I was worthless, so I lived as if I was worthless. I had no idea that each passing night was taking its toll on my heart, moving me further and further away from the Lord and deeper into my own shame.

On Memorial Day, 2011, I was curled up in a ball on my apartment patio crying to the Lord. I had been in an abusive relationship with a very disturbed man for just over two years and I wanted out but I couldn’t see the way. He had spent three days in a booze and drug filled bender, and was threatening me within an inch of my life. When he finally passed out, I went outside and told the Lord I couldn’t do this anymore. I wasn’t sure if the Lord was still listening to my half-hearted prayers, but this was an absolute cry for help from a frightened, helpless woman. I clearly heard a soft but strong voice say, “Get out” in my heart and I never questioned who was speaking.

Over the next several months, I went through the very painful process of leaving a man I thought I loved but I came to realize I was actually terrified of. He left terrifying messages on my phone, threatened to kill me and himself, stalked my apartment, and harassed my neighbors. I slept with a knife beside my bed and prayed for safety and the ability to trust during this dark time.

Months later, free from the monster that used to share my bed, I felt alone and unloved so I began sleeping around again. I was desperate to feel loved, or what I thought was love. After each encounter I felt more empty and more alone. I was lost again and felt as if I had fallen too far to even ask God for help again.

It has now been three years since I have been in any sort of romantic relationship – sexual or otherwise. Two years ago, I was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean and for the first time, I truly believed that I was saved, washed clean, and forgiven for everything I had ever done or will ever do. As I went into the water, I came out knowing that I would not, and could not go back. I have wanted to give into temptation many times, but God has placed so many people and words of truth in my path to draw me back to Him. Jesus continues to meet me in my bed in the middle of long nights when I feel lost, lonely, and unlovable. He hears my cries of desperation through my tears and knows the depth of my pain as I tell him, over and over, that my desire is to be a wife and a mother and to honor Him with a family.

In John 15 Jesus says that he is the vine, and we are the branches. He also warns us that sometimes, like the grapevines in a vineyard, we will endure a season of pruning in order to remove harmful toxins from the vine. God spent years pruning me – stripping me of all of the people, places, and things that were leading me to produce bad fruit, and sometimes no fruit at all! I lost jobs, relationships, friendships, living situations – all things that killed my ability to produce good fruit for the Lord. Like a bud opens to a flower or fruit, we are called to live with open hands. If a bud refuses to open, and lives clenched shut, it cannot blossom into its full potential and purpose. We are no different than a bloom on a vine. We are called to live with open hands, ready to give and receive according to the Lord’s will rather than clinging to the things that make us comfortable.

So what does it mean to live with open hands? To acknowledge desire rather than to kill it? What does it look like to trust the Lord with the deepest desires of my heart, not knowing when or even if He will give them to me? Henri Nouwen writes in his book With Open Hands, “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”

I don’t like being patient. When I want something, I want it now. Why wait if I already know what I want? But that is not the way of the Lord. His timing is precious and perfect, and not the same as my own. Living with open hands means telling the Lord, and my closest friends about my desires and admitting when I am having a hard time believing the Lord wants good things for me. Living with open hands looks like crying to a friend over the phone because I am at home, alone, on a Friday night. It looks like holding that friend in my arms when she has found out she can’t get pregnant and she and her husband had planned on having many children. It looks like cheering for my brother over the phone when he has just proposed and admitting that a tiny part of me is wondering when it will be my time to celebrate.

Henri Nouwen also wrote, ““Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart. Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”

Living with open hands means living honestly and vulnerably. It is difficult, and it often hurts. It would be much easier to just give up and buy a bunch of cats and an oversized nightgown collection and just give up hope. But God created me with desires, and I believe he is a good God who wants to love us well. He knit me together in my mother’s womb knowing I would be sitting on my bed at age 31 aching for a husband and children. I don’t know how He will care for me in this season, but I know He will care for me.

In John 15:1-5, Jesus says, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Can I truly believe that? Could I really be clean simply because God spoke? Do I trust his promise to me?

For me, living in faith means trusting the Lord. If I stop trusting, if I go out and take something that is not mine, like a man or a marriage, it will bring destruction because it will be of my will and not the Lord’s. Even if it feels good at first, it will destroy. Fruit grown by force will turn to poison. However, if I wait for the Lord, no matter how much it hurts, he will provide in his time as he has planned.

If I go down to Church Street tonight and pick a guy up in a bar and take him home, I am stealing. I am taking something that isn’t mine to have. And it will lead to emptiness and pain. If something provides immediate gratification, I can almost guarantee you that it is not from the Lord. Like fine wine or a delicious meal, gifts from the Lord take time and care and meticulous preparation. One of my favorite meals to prepare is real shrimp and grits with a recipe I learned when I lived in South Carolina. It’s a delicious meal and, when prepared properly, takes about five hours to complete. There are faster, cheaper ways of preparing shrimp and grits, but they taste fast and cheap. They are a poor substitute for the real thing.

That is what happens when we try to take what we want rather than waiting for God to provide. It may feel good in the moment, but it inevitably ends tasting cheap and fading quickly, leaving a huge cavity behind. What we don’t need can never satisfy us – it will only leave us searching and craving for more.

I will close with this prayer by Henri Nouwen:

“Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.”

Pro (Every) Life

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“Girl and Balloon”, Banksy

Back in July, I visited my friend, Jane, in Atlanta and after some really big hugs, I believe some of the first words out of my mouth were, “I had no idea what a butt head I was until I got married.” (Except I didn’t exactly use the words “butt head”, but you get the point.) See, before I met Tim, I thought I was generally ok with myself as a person. I mean, I knew had flaws and things I wanted to change or improve, but if asked to give myself a grade, I probably would have given myself a B+. (Hey, for some of us that was an AMAZING grade in high school.) I would have described myself as pro-others, but really I was just pro-Lindsey.

Since our wedding day, I am reminded on a daily basis that I am generally pretty selfish. This has become even more clear in the wake of Hurricane Irma. In the span of a few days, millions have lost power, thousands have been displaced, and it will take weeks or more to repair all of the damage left from the storm. While the bulk of my fear and anxiety during the storm was genuinely about those who had no where to go, my response since the storm has been nothing short of selfish. No stores are open? How am I going to make dinner?! Walgreens isn’t open? Where am I going to get more Dr. Teall’s?! The Post Offices are closed? When am I going to receive my paycheck?!

Me. Me. Me. Me. I. I. I. I. Mine. Mine. Mine. I should have auditioned for the role of one those obnoxiously loud seagulls in Finding Nemo because I would have crushed it. And the more I look around me, it isn’t just me either. I have stopped breathing out of shear panic at least twice just trying to navigate traffic since many of the stop lights are out around town. Apparently no one else had Mr. Pitner from Pitner’s Driving School pound into their heads that a flashing red light or broken stoplight is to be treated like a four-way-stop. I was nearly run over twice in two different parking lots by people driving at least 40 miles an hour. In parking lots. I have been stepped on and kicked in the store by people who refuse to look up from their phones. I have stepped on people because I refused to look up from my phone.

We want what we want, when we want it, NOW. And it is KILLING US. It is killing me. If I am not careful, my selfishness is going to crush someone – it is just a matter of whether it is me or others with me. As kind as my husband is, a turn of the lip or a slant of the eye tells me when I have just said or done something incredibly selfish and void of kindness. He is gracious and patient with my steep learning curve, but the evidence is still there and to be honest, I don’t always like having that mirror there to remind me when I am being less-than loving.

In an effort to challenge my selfish ways, I have been re-re-reading Brennan Manning books. If you are not familiar with Brennan, please introduce yourself to him soon through Abba’s Child or The Ragamuffin Gospel. You may not enjoy it at first, but you won’t regret your time with him. Brennan Manning was a man who never “got it right”. He died of the alcoholism that enslaved him for most of his life, yet he is one of the most profound writers on Jesus and Jesus’ love that has ever walked this earth. Brennan doesn’t talk pretty; he tells the truth.

With no formal permission, I share the following excerpt from his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, knowing that I need to read it at least 50 more times before I understand what it means for my own selfishness:

The way we are with each other is the truest test of our faith. How I treat my brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the antiabortion sticker on the bumper of my car.

We are not pro-life simply because we are warding off death. We are pro-life to the extent that we are men and women for others, all others; to the extent that no human flesh is a stranger to us; to the extent that we can touch the hand of another in love; to the extent that for us there are no ‘others’.

Today the danger of the pro-life position which I vigorously support is that it can be frighteningly selective. The rights of the unborn and the dignity of the age-worn are pieces of the same pro-life fabric. We weep at the unjustified destruction of the unborn. Did we also weep when the evening news reported from Arkansas that a black family had been shot-gunned out of a white neighborhood?

One morning I experienced a horrifying hour. I tried to remember how often between 1941 and 1988 I wept for a German or Japanese, a North Korean or a North Vietnamese, a Sandinista or Cuban. I could not remember one. Then I wept, not for them, but for myself.

I can’t tell you how many times I have failed to weep for my brother and sister who are suffering. I am incredibly quick, however, to weep for my own discomfort. In honor of Mr. Manning, and in repentance of my own selfishness, I challenge and encourage myself to be more pro-life in regards to every single living person I encounter. My hope is that I see them for who they are, not what they have or have not done to inconvenience me. I long to be pro-every-life. I ache for a day when we don’t see each other as objects to be tolerated but as people to be loved, enjoyed, and understood as beautifully and wonderfully different as we are. I pray that, through all of my relationships, I am refined and pumiced into a woman who loves deeply and forgives with abandon. I pray this for us all.

Learning to Swim

When I was preparing to become a lifeguard in high school, I remember some of the more rigorous requirements I needed to meet before I could be certified as a professional lifeguard. While there were mental tests to sharpen book knowledge and techniques, most of the tests very physical. In order to help a drowning victim, my body needed to be able to do certain things. I remember treading water for 30 minutes or longer while holding my arms above my head. This prepared me to stay above water for a long period of time (while building a killer core). I remember swimming a consecutive mile or more to build up lung capacity and stamina.

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The hardest test involved rescuing the program instructor’s son from the bottom of a pool and delivering him safely to the pool deck. There were a few conditions, though, which made this a potentially difficult task. Her son was a 20something year old college football player. He was over 6 feet tall, weighed more than 200 pounds, and most of that weight was muscle. He was a rather ornery dude who really enjoyed making this process difficult for future lifeguards, so he took his part of playing the flailing, panicked drowning victim very seriously. He had done his homework. I am also 97% positive that he oiled his skin up before jumping in the pool just to add an extra layer of complexity to this exercise.

I remember standing on the side of the pool waiting my turn to dive in and thinking, “Something is required of me if I want to help struggling people.” Even though I am no longer a lifeguard and have forgotten much of the training I endured to become one, I know now – maybe more than ever – just how much is required of me and anyone who steps into a helping profession. Therapists, instructors, first responders, nurses, doctors, surgeons, missionaries, and military service personnel know how quickly burnout can happen if we/they don’t care for the self before engaging in the care of others.

While I have always “known” this, I have recently been faced with some very real reminders of it as I have battled burn out. In spite of all of the hours I have spent in counseling, recovery groups, support groups, doctors offices, and self care books, I am still so quick to forget that I must take care of myself if I am going to be healthy enough to care for others. While the requirements for being an addiction and trauma therapist may not be the same as being a lifeguard, the same principles apply. If I am not relatively healthy emotionally, I will look to my clients for approval and affirmation. This is a HUGE danger zone in the world of therapy. If left untreated, this leads to therapists ignoring clear boundaries, having affairs with their clients, or worse. If I am not physically healthy, I am also not healthy mentally. 70-80% of our bodies’ serotonin receptors – the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood – live in our guts. That means whatever I put in my stomach greatly affects what happens in my brain and in the rest of my body. Simply put, I can’t think clearly if I am eating crap. And if I am not spiritually healthy, I will make idols of people, places, and things that were never meant to satisfy me.

Here is the catch: for the longest time, I confused “healthy” with “perfection”. Health does not equal perfection. We each have different health goals because each person is created differently. What works for one person’s physical make up may not work for someone else’s. For example, I have polycystic ovarian syndrome. This means that I am also insulin resistant, which means that my body over-produces insulin to compensate for the the fact that my body doesn’t metabolize insulin well. This affects my pituitary gland, my weight, my reproductive system, and my mental and emotional health. While I CAN eat whatever I want, it is not healthy for me to do so. My body does not process refined sugars or carbohydrates well, so I am prone to weight gain and dramatically slower weight loss. I take some medications to regulate this, but the best way to manage it is through lifestyle choices. The same goes for my depression and anxiety. I have lived with both for as long as I can remember. This doesn’t mean that I am a broken toy on the side of the room, but it does mean that I need to know how to care for my mind, heart, and body well so that symptoms don’t flare up and cause panic attacks or depressive episodes.

Some platitudes, however, do apply to all of us. Smoking is bad for everyone. Cocaine is bad for everyone. Lunchables are bad for everyone (sorry, babe, but there is plenty of research to back this up). We all need to get to know our brains and our bodies well enough so that we know what we need in order to be healthy.

So, back to my original point. What happens when I put care of self on the back burner for the sake of helping others? Well, it isn’t pretty, it helps no one, and this mostly what my last post reflected. Last week, through a flurry of unfortunate circumstances, I put self care so far down on the list that I physically, mentally, and emotionally crashed and was not in a place to help anyone. I let myself get to a place of drowning. So what does it look like to prevent this?

It looks like learning to swim. All hurricane puns aside (hurricanes aren’t funny, but sometimes the memes are), we will never be able to avoid all of life’s storms so we have to learn to swim. And everyone swims differently. You may tread water differently than I do, but at the end of the day both of our heads are still above water.

My challenge to myself, and to anyone reading this, this week is to learn how to keep swimming even when the storms around us rage. I think there is a reason other than biology that fish swim in schools. They accomplish so much more together. Whether it is finding food or regulating the current, they are more powerful in a group than in isolation. We are not too different from our fishy friends. Sometimes we have to tread water alone for a little while, but there is always someone nearby who needs us just as much as we need them.

My goal this week is to just keep swimming. Thanks, Dory.

Drowned

“Fear of Drowning”, artist unknown

I have not felt like writing in a while. Correction: I have not felt like writing anything KIND in a while. I have wanted to write many things directed at ignorant people, selfish people, mean people, or lazy people, but as soon as I start to type my thoughts, I realize that I am always one step away from being the person about whom I am complaining. So I check myself before I wreck myself, and move forward with a new perspective.

Now I am just tired. Last week was a big ugly roller coaster, and not the fun kind. On Monday, I went to the doctor to be poked and prodded to find the cause of some rather frightening symptoms I have been experiencing. On Tuesday I was sore and completely overwhelmed with work. On Wednesday I had to face a woman in jail and tell her that, in spite of herculean efforts on the part of our church’s community engagement team, I had no where for her to go after her early release. She was devastated and angry, as was I. She was released from jail at 9:00pm with nothing but the clothes she was arrested in – no money, no phone, no driver’s license. Nothing. I found her walking down 33rd Street near I4 when I was leaving the jail, so I asked her to get in the car. We grabbed some food for her, and proceeded to drive to every homeless shelter in the downtown-ish area. They were all full. I called every shelter I could find online. Nothing. After taking her to a relatively safe place to sleep for the night, I got home around midnight, exhausted and completely discouraged. On Thursday I found out that my blood work and tests had come back “normal”, which is great, but yielded no answers to what was going on in my body. We also received the bill for the blood work. Yikes. By Friday  the A/C in my car broke and I was a zombie, and I proceeded to sleep for 14 hours after a total meltdown that may or may not have involved some passive aggression towards my husband. Saturday, Tim and I watched “The Shack” and I snot-cried for hours. Sunday I had two very difficult conversations in jail with women whose futures are very uncertain, and I was stuck in traffic behind what appeared to be a very large police stand off between two perpetrators and about a dozen officers, including bullet shields and rifles.

So here I am today. Tired, discouraged, bloated (because I decided to take my anger towards the world out on myself by eating whatever I wanted to eat last night) and fed up. My food-drug tasted so good for about four bites, and then it just became another addictive outlet to numb all of the feels I was feeling. I don’t really like people today. I want to join our little Himalayan cat and crawl into a box and say “Forget it”, except I wouldn’t use the word ‘forget’. I want to wallow in my self pity and failure and shame and anger and intolerance and just tell everyone to buzz off (except I wouldn’t use the word ‘buzz’).

But then I see stories of people who are struggling with FAR greater tragedies and with FAR more grace and patience than I – a friend who is receiving her millionth treatment for inflammatory breast cancer but still exudes joy. My mom who just lost a dear friend to cancer but chooses to celebrate life. Families in Houston who have lost everything but continue to help others. Inmates who are facing decades in prison but still want to pray for other people’s needs. Every time I feel tempted to drown in my own cynicism, I am reminded that good people exist and that hope never completely dies.

I am far to prone to wanting to give up. I get weary and discouraged and afraid, and I will confess that I am really, really impatient with most people and circumstances. Yet, even in the midst of my ugliest pity parties, I am always reminded that it isn’t about me. My story is important, but it is just one part of a much larger story that is being written through all of us. And if I can see past myself, even for just a moment, I am usually surprised by all of the goodness that is around me.

A Sheet Cake in Wolf’s Clothing

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I was never the popular kid. I could sort-of fit in with some of the cool kids, especially when I was in middle school, but I was never That Girl – the girl that others wanted to be and guys wanted to be with. I was usually too tall or too big or too loud or too awkward or too artsy or not artsy enough or kind of smart but not smart enough or whatever else kids, teens, and young adults choose to label each other in the moment. I sort of floated down the middle for the majority for most of my youth.

I know a lot of adults who still float, but it’s getting harder and harder to do these days. We are all being pulled by some one, some thing, some idea, some event that demands our loyalty to one side or another. I believe this is why the last several weeks and days have brought an onslaught of insomnia, at least for me.

For the most part, I have been consuming – articles, blogs, videos, news feeds, podcasts, sermons, angry outbursts, questions, passive aggressive inbursts. As someone who is still learning how to listen before speaking, I am working on absorbing facts and narratives from as many sides as possible before retreating to my own internal processor and rendering an opinion. Lately, my internal processor has been on overload.

One minute, I find myself giggling at a famous female comedian who asks everyone to just “sheet cake” their pain and anger, and in the next I am reading a book about people who go out of their way to love the most unlovable people around them. It is overwhelming and confusing.

Nothing made me more uncomfortable, though, then when a colleague pointed out that the only people who were really shocked by what happened in Charlottesville were upper and middle class white people. I had to stop and think about that one, but I think my friend was right. Middle and upper class white people (myself included) don’t understand racism. We read about it, and hear about it, and sometimes see it, and watch movies about it, and know it is wrong, but (for the most part) it isn’t a part of our every day lives. So while an anti-human group marching together through a college town and killing someone is horrific, it isn’t new. This is happening every day. All over the world. All over our country. In your front yard and mine.

On the Sunday after the events in Charlottesville, my pastor/friend/colleague Zach Van Dyke preached a sermon he had prepared weeks before on how every single person walking this planet is made in God’s image. Liberals. Conservatives. Murderers. Surgeons. Freedom Fighters. Babies. Old people. Young people. Brown people. White people. Black people. Men. Women. Transgendered men and women. Gay. Straight. Q & Q. Racist. Humanitarian. Communist. Socialist. Libertarian. Capitalist. Classist. Rich. Poor. Employed. Unemployed. High. Sober. You get what I am saying – the labels go on and on and on. When I first heard his sermon during a preview on Wednesday, I thought it was really good and rather bold. When I listened to it on the following Sunday, I realized it was outright offensive, but for all the right reasons. I was all on board with what Zach was saying. He even started listing the people who are most offensive to many people in this world, and after each one he would remind us that this person, too, was made in the image of God. They may not live or act like it, but they were made in the image of the Creator.

That means our current president. And neo-nazis. And protestors. And everyone in between. That was hard for me to swallow.

After watching Tina Fey inhale a sheet cake, my giggles stopped mid-snort when my husband walked in and said, “She’s spewing just as much hate.” And he was right. I can’t help but notice hate doesn’t eliminate hate. It actually makes it grow. Hating neo-nazis and Donald Trump and statues are just as bad as hating anyone else. All forms of supremacism are wrong, because they force us to see ourselves as better than someone else. Whichever side you fall on, hate is hate. And hate equals death – for all of us.

A few months ago, I joined a few women to lead another recovery group inside of the jail where I work. I was excited to start this group again, and wasn’t sure who would attend since it was on a different side of the jail than the one where I normally visit. During the second week of group, a woman walked in and every fiber of my being tensed up. Without a word I knew exactly who she was. She was the center of a very high profile investigation and for the last two years or so, I had spent hours upon hours upon hours listening to her victims recount the trauma they had survived under her. Not only was I afraid of what this woman could do, I hated her for what she had done to women I love. I was in jail to lead a Christian recovery group, and my body was seething with anger towards this woman whom I had never actually met in person.

It took everything I had to get through that group without either screaming or lunging across the room. How DARE this woman walk into this classroom and pretend to want recovery!

Hatred had consumed me, and it was killing me from the inside. I knew I could not leave that room with so much hate in my heart and still sleep at night, much less call myself a leader. So I approached her, told her that I knew who she was, and asked if she would come back so I could get to know her a little better. She said she knew I probably didn’t want her there, but she would come back. And she did. Week after week she returned, and during these weeks we developed a dialogue in which we got to know each other a little better.

By the end of the group, I was not only proud of the work she had done in the circle each week, but I had grown compassionate towards her and really wanted to see her get a second chance at a new life. She has done a lot of evil things. A lot of evil things have been done to her. I will never condone what she did to the young women I felt I had to defend. I am working on forgiveness. Maybe I will get there, and maybe I won’t. As the new philosopher of our time, Kesha, sings, “But some things only God can forgive.” It’s not my job to make it right. But it is my job to make the more loving choice while moving forward.

So maybe you and I are being called to speak. Or maybe we are being called to listen. Or maybe we are being called to be the unpopular one in the room on or the feed. Or maybe we are called to take action for that in which we believe. Do these things. They are important. But please, do them in love, not in hate. Just because I am for something or someone doesn’t mean I am against something or someone else. It is actually possible to be “pro” without being “anti”. I will reference the ever graceful Saint Teresa of Calcutta. She was pro-many things and people without being anti-anything or anyone. She wasn’t perfect, and from everything I have read she readily admitted her faults. But she did a heckuva a job reminding the unlovable that they, too, are worthy of love.

Look, I get it. What I write here will be no more popular than my go-to sixth grade outfit of a sunflower skort romper with white tube socks and Timberland boots. But some of the most revolutionary men and women in history have changed lives by being unpopular. I am not out to change lives, but I would like to offer an alternative to hatred. No one walking around needs to reminded that the opposite side is wrong. What we need to remember is that every single life has value. Period. Even if you don’t agree with that person’s actions, words, motives, or lifestyle. It goes all ways. We are all hypocrites. We are all capable of committing atrocities. Each of us is one breath away from being the man or woman we despise.

My challenge to you, and to myself is this: Don’t join the haters – any of them. All sides are already screaming enough hate at each other. Consider being on the side of truth – the truth that says we are all equal. And we are all different. We are all equally different. And that’s a good thing. Hurt people hurt people. So why don’t we stop hurting people, and starting working on our own hangups so that hate stops here?