The ocean, my altar

I recently spent a glorious week basking in the Florida sun with my daughter and some of our dearest friends. The trip was an early birthday present for my daughter and her friend who have been asking to make this trip together since they were in the First Grade. The forecast for our time there was absolute perfection and the weather lived up to its promises.

We spent our days swimming in grandma Mary’s pool, sightseeing & discovering different beaches. I am a sun & sand lover by nature but honestly, my favorite thing about the beach is the ocean.
There is just something about the sound of the ocean washing into shore that sets my soul at ease. There is something so familiar about the salt infused air as it enters my lungs and causes a deep relaxation to settle in. I was reminded again of the holiness that exists within His creation.

As I stood looking out into the ocean, the sun shimmering off the surface and causing it to sparkle in golden hues, I met with the Creator of it all. The ocean as my altar, my heart knelt in the sand and a holy exchange took place. My offering a simple one, myself. His, one of grace and steadfast love for me. It’s overwhelming, that kind of exchange. One where you bring nothing and yet receive everything.

There are moments in life that kinda take your breath away. Where you wish time would stand still and you could hold onto it just a little bit longer. This past week was like that for me. There were occasions when I would look at Hannah, on the verge of becoming a young woman and yet childlike enough to still find a thrill in unearthing seashells, and she would catch my gaze and hold it. Moments that made my throat grow tight and stung my eyes as tears threatened to find their way down my cheek. We walked the beaches hand in hand, without much fussing over words. Sometimes beauty is so evident that stating it seems futile. And sometimes moments need to be experienced more than they need to be preserved. And so we tried our best just to linger in it, the beauty and the holiness of the moment.

But life isn’t always so gracious, sometimes it’s hard & callous and it robs us of our breath as the jagged edges of pain and loss tear their way through us.  As I listen to the stories coming in from the Florida school shooting (so close to where we just were), my throat grows dry and tight. My eyes once again burn with stinging tears, as I struggle to make sense of it all.

The victims, each name becoming its own personal prayer:

Helena, Alex, Cara, Carmen, Peter, Nicolas, Gina, Martin, Jaime, Joaquin, Scott, Alyssa, Alaina, Chris, Meadow, Aaron & Luke.

I find myself at an altar once again. This time instead of warm, soft sand covering my feet, my knees feel the stiffness of the rug beneath me and my face is tucked into the cushions of my couch. My altar looks a bit different, but the same exchange that took place at the shores of the ocean will occur here too. I will come with nothing but myself, my questions, my pain, my doubts…and He will bring all that He is, just like He always does. His peace, wisdom, comfort & love.

Just the mention of their names will be my simple prayer today. My only prayer, as words escape me. Because just like a perfect moment can steal your breath away, so can unimaginable loss. But there is one more name I know, one more prayer to say today, and that is Jesus. He is my prayer. He is my answer. He is my hope.

A Christmas Truce

I was reading recently about WWI and about the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914. It was a little over 4 months into the war when on December 7th, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war in order to celebrate Christmas. Although the warring countries refused any official cease-fire, on Christmas Day the soldiers in the trenches decided to declare their own unofficial truce.

On Christmas Eve of 1914, the sound of German and British troops singing Christmas carols to each other could be heard from across enemy lines. On Christmas Day, German soldiers emerged from the trenches, crossed through no-man’s-land, (a desolate area comprised mostly of decay and rotting corpses) and approached the Allied lines while calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. Although it seems the Allied forces at first thought it to be a trick, they quickly realized the Germans were unarmed and then climbed out of their trenches to shake hands and even exchange presents with the enemy soldiers. There was also a documented case of a game of soccer taking place between soldiers on opposing sides. For that day anyway, the fighting ceased and the term enemy was replaced with fellow soldier.

I find this story fascinating. With our world seemingly at war with one another and hate distorting our vision, we could desperately use a cease-fire of our own. A day of rest, a break from the constant warring with one another.

Our world is being torn into pieces as our eyes bear witness to the devastation. And just like no-man’s land, all of the fighting and hate has left a barren wasteland where people lay injured, broken and dying. Conversations like mud puddles, stomped underfoot on our way to proving how right we are. Sharing opinions in a respectful way has become lost in the sound of gunfire as it reverberates in our chest and sends a tinging sound to our ears. Our words being the ammunition necessary to fire our weapons.

What this world needs is more people who will emerge from their trenches of self-preservation and brave the desolate walk through no-man’s land. Those who are willing to embrace the humanity in us all that lies just on the other side of the battle line.

Somewhere amidst all of the fighting we have lost sight of the fact that we’re not sworn enemies, but rather, fellow soldiers. Human and hurting. Trying our best. Fighting our own hidden battles.

And yet someone needs to go first.

So who will start the singing? Who will be willing to learn another’s native tongue in order to speak words that will convey love, peace and hope? Who will make the effort to come to another, perceptions surrendered, and be willing to embrace all of the things we still have in common?

As this year draws to a close and with the new year upon us, we have the chance to start fresh again. To determine how we are going to respond to those around us, to set the tone for how we are going to handle disagreements. We can draw up our own truce. One that will set the tone for the year ahead. A declaration to fight for those around us instead of against. One where we are intentional in connecting with others over all the things we still have in common. One where love is emphasized instead of minimized.

We don’t have to wait for someone else to declare an official cease-fire. We have the power to initiate our own. Let’s make the decision to put down our weapons and pick up the hand of the person next to us. Let’s choose love over hate. Perhaps those first few shaky steps out of our trenches will inspire the person next to us to do the same. Then maybe we’ll be able to experience the depth of the beauty that exists in our shared humanity and we can exchange the greatest gift of all – love.

Good-bye sweet girl

Good-bye sweet girl.

These are the words that were silently spoken by my heart this morning as I watched my daughter leave for school.

I stood there, from our front door, watching her walk away.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.  The chilly air kissed my face and my bare feet were planted on the cold, wet concrete steps.  My heart felt like it was stuck in my throat and tears, like prisoners, tried escaping down my cheek.  All at once it felt like a decade had passed me by in the blink of an eye.

Today my baby is 10.

I remember the days, they don’t seem all that long ago now, when I would find myself dreaming of a time when my kids would be more independent.  I remember anticipating the days where all three of my children would be able to feed themselves, get dressed on their own, and do basic hygiene without any help from their mama.  And I realize, a little despairingly now, that my dreams have come true.

Lessons from my 30’s

So, I’m turning the big “40” here in a few days and while this milestone birthday can be a bit depressing for many, I find myself excited for this next decade and all that it will hold.  Honestly, turning 30 was kind of hard for me. And yet, as leery as I was heading into those years, some of my greatest personal growth occurred during that time. Here are a few things I have worked hard at in the last decade that have also enriched my life immensely.

1.)  Girlfriends that love fiercely.

One of the best things about being this age is that I’ve learned how to choose well when it comes to my friendships.  I’ve discovered that great friendships don’t just materialize, they are made.  It takes time and energy to form a deep and lasting friendship.  A friendship that’s worth anything to you has undoubtedly endured misunderstandings, hurt feelings and a few bumps and bruises along the way.  But that’s what makes them so valuable.  You’ve invested your time and a decent amount of work into the relationship.  You’ve taken risks and have shared vulnerable moments together.  If it’s a truly deep friendship you have probably had to lovingly correct, ask for forgiveness and possibly even work through moments of jealousy. But strong, healthy friendships go there.  They do the hard, deep work because they know the reward is worth it.  These friendships, the ones that love fiercely, that go the extra mile and are committed to digging in and doing the hard work when life calls for it, these are amongst the sweetest gifts God gives.

Love is God, not a chameleon

“All you need is love.  All you need is love. All you need is love, love.  Love is all you need.”

The lyrics to the Beatles’ famous song play like a soundtrack in my mind.  A classic. It’s a catchy feel good song.  Each beat like an anthem declaring itself to my heart.

Everywhere I turn lately, it’s all I hear.  Love is the answer to everything.  We are love warriors and we have hashtags stating #loveisloveislove, Madonna even chanting it at the end of her speech at a recent women’s march. “We choose LOVE! We choose Love! We choose Love!!!!” She screams this into the very same microphone that only moments before amplified her thoughts of blowing up the White House.

And I wonder….Is this really all we need? Is this the love we need? If we just chant the word enough, or if we scream it loudly from a microphone, or maybe if we hashtag it to death, will something change then?  Will the word love be enough to heal our our broken hearts? our communities? our country?

It seems as though love has taken on a loftiness about it as of late.  Tenuous in nature, it is sweeping across our nation making unsubstantiated claims.  It has become an abstract, vaporous idea that invites people to adhere their own personal definitions to it.  Suddenly, love can be whatever you’d like it to be.  And while this idea presents itself as being inclusive and freeing, I believe it does us a disservice.  How can we all claim that love is the answer when our definition of love is so vastly different from one another?