When You Say Goodbye

You hold out your autograph book, the one with the multicolored pages and the dinosaur cover, the one you got when you were a child. You hold it out with pride, not embarrassment, for the decade and a half of memories it carries — of names and notes, of crossed-out words and hard-to-read cursive. You’ve taken this book overseas twice, and you safeguard it in ever-increasing ways after each pen or pencil addition.

*****

More than twenty people come to your goodbye party. You and your family aren’t used to hosting parties, so you call it an informal open house. But you’re still nervous and rushing around as the first few guests trickle in. Not everything’s ready, but you quickly relax and realize that that’s okay. Even though Christmas was two days ago and you live half an hour outside of town, people still come.

Larry and Dona bring Ozzie, the border collie/Australian shepherd mix that leaped and licked and chased his way into your heart last year. You rush outside and crouch next to him in your dress. He remembers you.

You are not an extrovert, but you feel like one today. You spend the afternoon playing Taboo with teenagers and twentysomethings, parents and grandparents, jumping up occasionally to hug someone hello or goodbye, or to mingle with those who are still here.

You’re tired later, but in the best possible way.

*****

You don’t want to ruin anyone’s Christmas, so you wait until the 26th to start saying goodbye to your radio listeners. Or at least that’s when those comments go out over the airwaves. Because of the gap between the recording and the airing, you don’t hear from listeners until after your last day of work.

Before that, though, before the questions and best wishes and Bible verses from people you don’t know, you have to come to terms with leaving. It was your own choice, and you know it’s right, but that doesn’t make it easy. You were invited in, once, and now friendliness has turned into love, and the force of it staggers you and sweetens everything in that old building.

When the time comes to record your final voice tracks, you feel it, and anyone listening will probably be able to hear it. That’s okay. You don’t feign emotion for radio, but when it’s there, you don’t try to stifle it. You are as real as you can be. You’ve read whole books of the Bible over the last year and a half, and now instinct causes you to reach one last time for the passages you hold most dear. As the last song in the last hour comes to an end, you say goodbye, you read Philippians 2:1-11, and even though you are in a room by yourself, you feel the pain of parting.

You are so glad you’re still in town for the 45th anniversary open house. Some people know by now; others find out partway through their tour of the station. You meet people, you hug them, you explain as best you can (though it sounds feeble to your own ears) why you’re leaving. You eat cake and drink sparkling cider, and then, before year 46 can begin, you’ve gone.

*****

You know you will always treasure the memory of this Sunday morning, the day of the youth group Christmas party but separate from it. They are sitting down in a circle, and there you are, on the inside of the circle holding your journal and a bundle of cards. You are uncharacteristically nervous as you stand in front of these teens and preteens and adults you love so much. You’re tempted to take the easy route and simply hand out the cards with a smile, but you know, you know, that you will always regret it if you miss this chance to speak truth and beauty from your vantage point of two years … to speak publicly these words you believe, these words of hope. So you slowly move around the circle, looking into their eyes and delivering love the best way you know how.

And then everyone takes a gel pen and it becomes an exchange of encouragements. Here are the picture frames all holding fancy paper, one for every person, and look at the beautiful calligraphy printed at the top of each one! Yours says Lizzie. The room is quiet now, frames dancing from table to laps until their contents are covered in words and color.

Your idea was just for words and simple paper; Luba brought the elegance, the lettering, the frames with the glass. You are so grateful for her. You have so many wonderful words hidden away in boxes and folders and books, but to have words you can prop up on a table, a shelf, a dresser — oh the joy! That’s what you do with your frame, later, after holding it your heart and weeping.

Two weeks after the Day of Encouragements, it’s time for final goodbyes. You show pictures of your new house in Colorado and write your contact information on the white board. You have a few words to say, not as a leader, but as a friend. And so you read them clumsily, these words you wrote with tears but are saying without them. You repeat certain words, words like belong and friend and thank you. The tears will come again later, but there’s too much laughter in the room for that now.

As you hug them, you remember gift exchanges and Capture the Flag, Guardians of the Galaxy and the Star Wars marathon, the Super Bowl parties and Winter Camp 2014. You remember the conversations over ice creams and lunches, over drives from here to there and while sitting and standing all around the church. You remember sleepovers, desperate prayers, oh-so-much laughter, and sitting in front of the sanctuary baring your soul.

You’ve woven together your life with theirs over the last two years, and you’re so glad you did. Your life is richer because of them. You love them.

*****

This autograph book with the dinosaurs on it, it’s gone with you everywhere lately: to work, to church, to your own parties, carried in your purse just in case you see that one person or two who hasn’t written in it yet. Fourteen years ago, it was just a fun birthday present. Today, it’s a reminder of the people you love, many of whom you just left behind in the mountains and forests of northern California.

These last two weeks have been so rich and full, but most importantly, they’ve been reminder after reminder that all of the words and little moments and ordinary choices and all those daily battles have mattered, have built these edifices thick with meaning and friendship, have made it possible for such goodbyes as these.

Here’s To Being Honest

It’s been three years since a major bend in the road of my life coincided with the start of a calendar year.

Then, I was excited. Then, I pinned all my hopes on a time of transformation overseas. And it was a time of transformation, growth, friendships. I’m grateful.

My attitude now, however, is a bit different. Still hopeful, but cautious and apprehensive and not-all-of-my-eggs-in-one-basket-anymore as I prepare to move from California to Colorado in less than a week. Too much has happened since then for me to believe that transformation will happen so easily. I’m tired.

It’s become a bit of a mantra with me that “I either feel a lot, or not at all,” and this business of saying goodbyes is of the feel-a-lot variety. So I’ve been reaching for my journal more often over the last couple weeks, finding solace and sense in pouring out and pressing through with one of my beautiful Japanese gel pens.

2014 was the year of reading more. I want 2015 to be the year of writing more. Blogging more, maybe, hopefully, but even journaling alone would fill the need … would perhaps fill it better, being without the baggage of self-promotion and insecurity that can happen in places like these when the soul isn’t quite healthy.

2012 was the best year of my life. 2014 is certainly a candidate for worst, though my perspective is certainly skewed given my closer proximity to this year than to all the other hard ones. A year of depression, loss, questioning everything, stagnation. A year where international travel was no longer an adventure, but a heavy weight. A year, metaphorically, of being in at least two constricting boxes.

Physical relocation provides ample opportunities for change, but my hopes for a better 2015 don’t — can’t — depend on that. Rather, it’s in the finding and seeking out of spaces to be honest with myself and honest with others. Over the last two years, I’ve found myself in self-imposed and externally imposed situations where I’ve felt the pressure to bite back the true, the raw, and the real in exchange for the acceptable, the sanitized, the pretty.

May this be a year of daring greatly.

The Rainbow

a rainbow fading
Not my rainbow, but the lighting conditions are similar. John Garghan took this picture.

The light is weird: bright, bright sun and a collage of clouds at near dusk, and in the eerie I see the start of a rainbow, oh so vivid.

And I cry.

Twice I pull over on the side of the road to gaze and to hold up my little phone with its weak little camera and to marvel and to feel. The second time, it all rises up in me even more as I see that this, this is a full rainbow. A picture of perfect wild cloud light bow.

I cry more.

The rainbow disappears a few minutes later, but the emotions stay with me, full and welcome. Soon I am home, walking inside to where the others are. This is when the feelings vanish — completely from my face, and mostly from my soul. No. Too much. Too emotional. Too personal. Too intense. It’s conscious and unconscious, a pulling back and a sudden lurch as something pulls itself out from under me.

Then, I am with the people. Easily, I hold out the stories I’ve collected of the day, I speak fast as I do, I remember excitements and energies and frustrations, all of them true in fact and feeling.

And yet…

There are moments, moments like these, when something more real comes out. Something more real than cynical admissions and little life stories, and I remember what it’s like to be awake. And then I’m afraid of what it’s like to be awake.

Reflections on 9/11

9/11 tribute
Photo by Kim Carpenter

Thirteen years ago, I was sitting in front of our thick computer playing a spelling game. I still remember the bright yellow on the screen.

I was 12 years old, in my last full year as a homeschooler, and it’s my only homeschooling memory I can pin down to a specific day.

My mom interrupted my game to tell me about two planes crashing into two towers in New York City.

That’s where I was when I found out about the 9/11 terrorist attacks: The first event to imbed itself in the minds of an entire generation. My generation.

At that age, I was in the habit of acquiring journals, writing a few pages in them, and then abandoning them. That night, I opened my current diary  one of those pretty ones with a lock and key  and wrote these words:

Something very awful happened today. Terrorists hijacked four passenger planes  gigantic ones. Two of them flew right into and destroyed the two buildings of the World Trade Center. … I’m scared that this might be the beginning of World War III!

All of us who were old enough to remember, old enough to understand, were affected by that day, weren’t we?

Thirteen years later, I have friends I laugh with and watch movies with who were no more than four years old when those planes did their damage. I marvel at how much can fit into the ten years between us, how events that I can never forget are events that they can never remember.

9/11 pulled me of my own little world and gave me a glimpse of a bigger one, of hurts beyond my own that became my own. This shouldn’t be a few-and-far-between occurrence. When pictures of brokenness creep into the corners of my vision, I want to open the curtains and look into the hurting faces until I can’t ignore them, until I have to do something about the pain because I’m hurting too.

May we weep with those who weep.

The Art of Turkeys

Wild TurkeysI see art in the turkeys who come to our yard daily. I see beauty and wonder as they drink from the old, metal bucket we keep filled with water, tilting their heads back once they’ve filled their mouths with a swallow so that the liquid can go down and quench and fill. I am delighted to watch them peck and scratch at the dirt, and, sometimes, sit in it.

They haven’t brought their babies here to drink for more than two years now. I wish they would, but I’m content just to see them live and move and have their being right outside our kitchen window.

Turkeys aren’t known for their beauty. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to them. Cats and dogs, dolphins and horses have many admirers. But turkeys, with their tiny pink heads, their thin legs, and their sleek, dark bodies, aren’t the recipients of as much love. But still they go about their lives, unconcerned with the world that only notices them for their meat.

I notice them, these wild friends of mine, and I never tire of watching them walk, run, sit, drink, explore, and fly into the tall pines at twilight to sleep in safety.

Sometimes I feebly gobble to them from above or across, and sometimes they reply. But more often I just watch them, like I’m doing right now, not wanting to alarm them and thus hasten their departure.

I watch this corner of the turkeys’ world, knowing that when I’m no longer living here, my heart will still thrill at the sound of their gobbling, one of my favorite sounds in the world.

Are These My Glasses?

glasses
photo by Iain Browne at flickr’s creative commons.

They gave me that look and those words, critiquing my lodging arrangements on our trip. She stood in the middle of the street and started singing beautifully, and I realized she would always be better than me at everything. She came up to me and touched the mole on my face, the one that sprouts black hairs.

Two nights ago, I dreamed all those scenarios, one right after another, and what an insecurity bath it was!

Sometimes my confidence is off-the-charts, and I love being me, and “weird” is a badge of honor. Then my world opens up a bit more, or I’m plunged back into an earlier time with earlier people, and it all comes back.

I’m not invincible; I’m fragile.

Two autumns ago, I knew the steps and I walked in them. Literally. I knew that writing helped me understand myself. I knew that walking brought clarity to thoughts and prayers. So I did both often, and the steps were simple, and life was sweet.

But it was easier to carve out the space for these life-giving habits then. I had just returned home from seven months abroad. I was reunited with my cats and the majority of my wardrobe, and everything looked a little newer and fresher than it had before I left. I was afraid of this return, afraid of falling back into depression and old, hated patterns, but I was healthy, the world was new, and I had time aplenty on my hands. And so I slid smoothly into the new rhythm.

But once you slide out of it, as I did after a few months — gradually and imperceptibly — it’s hard to regain that footing.

It’s been almost a year and a half now since those (perceived) idyllic days.

It terrifies me how fragile this is, how fragile I am, how easily I can and have lost my way on the slippery slopes of self-loathing and comparison and laziness and many others.

Writing again has been like exchanging someone else’s glasses for a pair that’s actually my prescription. I’m grateful to be able to see again, but I’m also fearful. What if I lose them or break them or forget them somewhere? What if I forget to clean them and they get all smudged and blurry and I’m so used to the new normal that I don’t realize it’s time for a reset?

And how do I even know these glasses are the “magic formula” for seeing? What if there’s a better, sharper pair somewhere else, and I’m unknowingly settling for ones that may work for a while, but will give me headaches in the end?

In which I am light and bright and sparkling

More of my writing happens when I’m a mess than when I’m radiant.

But I was radiant today.

bright filters of tree
photo from liquidnight at flickr’s creative commons

I looked in the mirror and saw nothing I didn’t like. My own words pleased me. I saw nothing to complain of, nothing to disprove of, nothing to cast a shadow.

My arms were overflowing with containers and books and pieces at the end of the day when I stepped into the home warmth, and that’s when my personality really began to overflow. I find Jane Austen’s description of her best-known work, Pride and Prejudice, a fitting description for this phenomenon of self-satisfied being: “light, and bright, and sparkling.”

I love these days, but I wonder if they are entirely good for me. I wonder if I’m as ill equipped at emotionally processing the good days as I am at processing the bad ones.

Two words come to mind: “frenzy” and “narcissistic.”

And yet in this sparkling there is so much of true self that I can reach out and grab onto. My laughter can fill many barrels, and everything seems open and possible. Life is here as a gleam and a glare.

But even if I were to curb the self-absorbed aspects, I wouldn’t want to be radiant like this all the time. It takes another corner of my true self to weep with the weeping, and to feel something for those who see life as closed and impossible … to ask hard questions and sit in silence … to see the world beyond my blankets.

These blankets of mine — some colorful, others dour — bring comfort in their time, but there is more.

The Lizzie Manifesto

Pandora is filling my borrowed room with lovely sounds akin to Pachelbel’s Canon, and I am restarting my blog with hope that it will continue even when the feelings aren’t there. Because writing is one of the things that, in the past, has helped me recover who I am, and I have confidence that it can do it again.

embraced by words
by Robbert van der Steeg, from flickr’s creative commons.

My church began its annual missions focus this week, with a sermon on the Great Commission from a woman only two years older than me. I walked in numb and flat, as I have for a while now, but I left with a few flickers of inspiration that stayed with me into my car and into the quiet. Not to knock on my neighbor’s door or deliver hope to strangers, as you might expect, but to knock on the doors of my own heart and find out what’s inside … to deliver hope to my own cracked and broken pieces.

I want to listen to myself and accept the reality of where I’m at right now. This roller coaster is nothing to feel afraid of, ashamed of, or less-than because of. It’s here, and I’m on it, and it’s okay. Normal, even. I will settle in and appreciate this view and that exhilaration, and when my stomach drops and the g-forces throw my tears back at me and I can barely see through the squinting, it won’t be a nasty surprise but an accepted — if not welcome — part of the ride. We’re all on different roller coasters at different times, and even the most extreme and, conversely, the most slow-moving ones don’t last forever. This too shall pass, but in the meantime …

… Who am I? What makes me come alive? What do I need?

I asked myself these and other questions from the wicker chair in the sweltering shade, while the dogs looked on.

This is what I want:

  • A safe community that brings life
  • Energy and motivation to write, explore, breathe, and enjoy the simple things of life
  • To find purpose, passion, hope, and truth and carry them with me in my being and doing
  • A strong foundation spiritually, emotionally, relationally
  • New opportunities and experiences for the stretching, invigorating, experimenting, and the living of life to the fullest
  • To truly see the people and the world in which I live — to laugh and cry and feel and taste — rather than going through the motions
  • To always be honest and true to myself
  • To find life and refreshment in discipline
  • To be good, but not safe
  • To have the courage to move when the place I’m in no longer brings life, but also to recognize that my cocktail of purpose, passion, hope, and truth can be found anywhere.
  • To love well
  • To value quality over quantity
  • To press on with or without the feelings
  • To be released from feeling like I have to be there for everyone all the time
  • To be okay with journey and process without outcome or destination
  • To have a heart and mind always open to learning

Looking between the lines in “Noah”

Russell Crowe as Noah
Russell Crowe as Noah (from ew.com)

As I read reviews and then sat in the dark cinema, I was open. I was reaching, as with feelers, into the waters of Noah, open to receiving what was good and thought provoking about the movie. And I didn’t come away empty-handed.

But then I read the lambasting words, and the movie called blasphemous and compared to excrement, and I tucked my feelers under my body, afraid what they would think of me for daring to see anything good in the adaptation.

But I did. I also saw things that unsettled and troubled me. I’m not entirely sure how to make sense of it all, but I’ll try.

First, I don’t think the filmmakers were intentionally trying to mock Christians or distort the biblical account as much as possible. My take is that this was a serious attempt to examine the story of Noah and the Flood in a new way while challenging expectations, looking at human nature, looking between the lines, looking at philosophical questions the story evokes.

Second, there are many things we don’t know about the story of Noah. Here are some of them: how devoted Noah’s family members were to God and what kind of people they were; if any of them (Noah included) ever doubted or struggled or didn’t understand; exactly how God communicated with Noah, both at the beginning when he told Noah what to do, and throughout the journey of building the ark and escaping the Flood; what the antediluvian world was like; what Noah’s interactions with the corrupt world were, especially as he began his ark-building endeavor; and let’s not forget the mystery of the Nephilim. Granted, I’m not a theologian, but none of these things seem cut-and-dried to me.

The biblical account is essentially this: God told Noah what to do in a way that was clear and intelligible to him, and he did it. And not just instructions about the dimensions of the ark and how many pairs of animals to bring aboard, but also which humans to bring on board, and the fact that He was establishing a covenant with Noah.

This seems clear-cut and straightforward with little room for ambiguity, but is there anything clear-cut and straightforward about a Flood in a rainless world; about a God who embodies both mercy and justice, love and wrath, beginnings and endings, death and life; about humanity being preserved inside a 350-cubit-long box made of gopher wood while death writhes in the waters outside? I remember all the things we don’t know about the story of Noah, and I realize that there may have been more going on between the lines – even if only at the heart and head level – than we know.

(If you haven’t seen the movie yet, be warned that the next few paragraphs contain spoilers.)

In the movie, God’s instructions to Noah are a part of that ambiguity, especially as relates to the future of the human race. At first, Noah is planning on finding wives for his two unmarried sons, but then he sees the wickedness of the world in all its perversity, and becomes convinced that humanity has corrupted itself beyond repair, has lost its chance. God’s justice, he believes, requires that the human race end with his family. But then Shem’s previously barren wife gets pregnant on the ark, and we’re plunged into an Abraham-and-Isaac scenario with a Noah willing to kill his own grandchild if it (or they, as it turns out) is a girl.

As I was watching this, I thought, The only way to redeem this is to make it clear that Noah had misunderstood God’s will and was taking matters into his own hands in the wrong way.

In a way, this did happen, but not as clearly as I would’ve liked.

I have no problems with Noah being a flawed human being. He was a sinner like the rest of us, despite being “blameless in his generation.” In the movie, we saw a man who obeyed God and walked differently from the rest of the world … and yet a man who saw a world that was broken and evil and corrupt, and struggled with that tension.

Here is what I keep coming back to: I think the movie portrayed some of the emotions and struggles that Noah and his family could have been dealing with, even if they didn’t manifest themselves in the same ways they did in the movie. What must it have been like to be the only ones following God in a corrupt world? What was it like to face the unknown and the prospect of every other human drowning while they would float atop the waters and survive? The Bible doesn’t probe their hearts and minds, but Noah opens that door, and is it far-fetched to look into the facts of the Flood and wonder if there was any fear, or doubt, or a struggling with the tension between God’s mercy and God’s justice, or even wondering deep down if they deserved to be spared?

Yes, there were things I would’ve changed about the movie. I would’ve made it clearer that Methuselah’s special abilities were from God. I would’ve sketched out the Nephilim differently. And I especially would’ve drawn out more of God’s mercy and love than we saw portrayed. That is what troubled me the most: knowing that this interpretation of God could leave some people thinking of Him as impersonal and unloving. And yet, wrath and justice are a part of God’s character, and especially need to be examined in a story about the Flood.

But despite all this, Noah helps us explore and ask questions and wrestle with a familiar story in a new way. Even though this movie was made by a non-Christian taking creative liberties, I believe that God can use it. He can illuminate our minds and hearts to see what was good and draw it out. He can redeem the ambiguities and interpretations that went too far. And He can resolve those tensions and bring us back to Himself.

Here’s to Being

Here I am, again.

I’m moving gingerly back into this space, unsure of what I’m able to commit to, of what is life-giving, of what tomorrow will feel like.

But here I lie, in the dark of my sister’s dorm room while she sleeps, with peace and a full heart, and an ash cross on my forehead that I haven’t gotten a proper look at yet.

It is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, and I have come a long way since the darkness of the new year. January was a bleak month for me and others I know. I looked toward February and saw it glowing with hope and promise. And that’s what I found there. I had a weekend of feeling close to God for the first time in a long time, and another weekend of connecting with girls half my age and revisiting my camp baggage and realizing so much about who I am as a person, a youth leader, a counselor.

And yet, I’m still amazed at how easy it was to bend back to how things were before. To bend back to autopilot and doing and hard edges and stagnation.

Maybe I will be bending a different way by this time next month.

I have never observed Lent before, but this year I signed up for an online course that’s focus is on being and resting. After being wrung dry, after depression, in the midst of doubt and sameness, this is what I needed.

I read the introductory posts from the other few dozen women taking part in the course, and I wrote out my story in unabashed wordiness. Then came the peace and the full heart. And the desire to keep writing.

So here I am, again.