I pressed the button on the garage door opener above my head and stared blankly as the white sheet of aluminum before me began to slowly ascend. The delay felt all too familiar in this season of quarantine as I sat in my car, waiting patiently for the pulley system to painfully finish its job. I slowly put my foot on the gas, and unenthusiastically eased my car through the lifted passage and into the dimly lit space. The heaviness overwhelmed me as I processed the last several hours of rummaging through the desks of my fourth grade students and bagging their items for a final parent pick up. In the midst of reports of more COVID-19 cases on the rise and the uncertainty of large gatherings still on hold, I fought to hold back tears as I realized that in addition to our church that my husband pastors, my teaching career would also be one of the last places to receive the baton to open its doors in this seemingly never ending race to gather again. I meandered my way out of my vehicle and glanced at my husband unloading groceries, his sanitizing wipes in hand. Overwhelmed with the disarray of plastic bags and bulk item purchases, I swept past him, kissed him gently on the cheek, and wandered upstairs to somehow arrange the tangled circumstances of life into some assembly of order.
The gravity of unending lessons to be learned during quarantine were not lost on me. What had once been a lifestyle at breakneck speed had quickly come to a screeching halt. My otherwise frantic mornings of wrangling teens from beds and pouring coffee into travel mugs was now replaced with quiet walks in my wooded backyard while the rest of the world lie sleeping. I could seek God in new ways that my former frantic rhythms of life did not make room for. I was now free to linger and abide, ask hard questions and wait for answers, and truly contemplate life as I knew it. Perhaps the quarantined cries of my heart compounded with the reality of rulers and pencils removed too early from desks was just too much for me to bear that morning. Or perhaps God was preparing my heart for the unexpected moment that I was about to encounter.
Dropping my teacher bag at the top of the stairs, my hands searched inside for my ringing connection to the outside world. The familiar voice on the other end brought a comfort and familiarity to my otherwise feeble mindset as my dear friend, Kelly, explained that she had a surprise for me and was going to put me on a three way call. Desperate for good news, I clung anxiously to the end of the line. Little did I know that the prayers I had been praying over the last few weeks... prayers for insight and understanding...were about to be answered.
Over the course of the next thirty minutes, a conversation transpired as Kelly and her artist friend, Karen Benitez explained how Karen saw a photo that I had posted on social media months before, and had been quietly bringing it to life on a canvas. I remembered the photo immediately; the one that my daughter took of me staring at a massively unyielding painting at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We had toured the museum with family friends that day and having been temporarily separated by the rest of the group, I entered a gallery to find the immense piece of art hanging in front of me. I'm not sure how long I stood there, examining its various fragments and pondering what the artist's purpose for creating it might have been, but it was long enough for my teenage daughter to retrace her steps to find me there pontificating. She snapped the pic and gently walked over to tap me on the shoulder, rousing me back to my senses. Later that evening, she showed me the photo on her phone as we feasted on pizza and chatted with friends. Touched by the sentiment of the image that she had captured, I posted it to my page and went about the rest of my evening.
I'm not sure when Karen scrolled by the image, but it caught here eye from an artist's perspective. She describes that moment on in an IG post (@karenbenitezart) that says...
"I have never been interested in making a painting of a person viewing art . . . until I saw a photo posted by @jen.redmon. I don't know who took the photo and I didn't ask Jen if it was ok for me to paint it. I did ask our mutual friend @kellylagaras. She gave me an enthusiastic "yes!" and we decided to surprise Jen with it."
Unaware of any of the issues of my spiritual condition that this quarantine had been revealing to me, Karen researched the painting in the photo in an effort to bring meaning to the piece that she herself would be bringing to life. One article in particular that she found about an interpretation of its meaning was in regards to perfectionism. She shared her findings with Kelly who, without divulging my deepest secrets to her about my need to constantly get it right, encouraged Karen to continue to work on the piece.
The tears rolled down my face as my mind recounted the months leading up to this phone call. The struggle that this pandemic had forced me to face about my desire to make sense of every circumstance and somehow bring all of the pieces together into some sort of an assembly of perfection had done its necessary work of bringing me to my knees in an outcry of confession to God. Every prayer, every tear, every ounce of energy that I poured into seeking Him for wisdom into this situation and crying out to Him for understanding had in some supernatural way, culminated in this moment as I stood staring at a photo on my phone of Karen's painting, a visual representation of my inner struggle that was being explained to me by two women from four hours away.
And just when I thought I couldn't possibly be laid anymore exposed before God in that moment, Karen gave one final insight into what was already shaping up to be one of the most defining moments of my life.
"Jen, I'm not sure if you noticed, but there are no ropes in the painting as there are in the photo." she explained. "I didn't want to add them because I wanted there to be a sense of freedom for you in this painting."
Freedom from perfection. Without even realizing the depths of my heart, I understood in that moment that it was the very thing I had been praying for. Karen could never have known all of that and yet God used the incredible artistic gifting that He had placed in her to speak so clearly to the greatest cry of my heart at the exact moment I needed to hear it most.
These pieces are never all going to make sense this side of heaven. It's not my job to put them together into some sort of perfect masterpiece that is not mine to create. My frame was not hidden from my creator in the secret place (Psalm 139:15.) The same place that he beckons me to moment by moment to abide with Him and seek His perfect peace alone. I am not bound by the enormity of circumstances beyond my control that cause me to stand, head tilted, bewildered, and confused. There are no barriers to the depths of wisdom and understanding that are found in Christ and He promises to give generously to those who ask (James 1:5.) I am free to explore and create and experience without having to fit all of life's pieces together into some sort of system or false sense of security. I am not bound, held back, or restricted from accessing all that God has for me (Hebrews 4:16.) And I'm not called to figure it out on my own. He is leading, He is guiding, He is drawing me close.
The title of the painting in the photo that I posted so many months ago is called "According to What" by Jasper Johns. I believe that is the question I've been asking my entire life as I bounce back and forth between my own experiences to the opinions of others and back to God again. How can I not be anything but bewildered when I look to my circumstances and my own strength instead of Him and His perfection? The irony of the name of the piece is not lost on me.
Nor is the one that Karen gave hers... "According to What, Jen Redmon?"
Perhaps that is the question that God has been asking me all along as he watches me stand before the unknowns of life and contemplate my need for perfection. And now, for the first time, I am truly able to confidently answer....
"According to You, God. According to You."
4 am. My internal alarm had struck again, waking me entirely too early as it had done every morning of that long, sleepless month. I rolled out of bed, tied the bathrobe around my waste, and shuffled down the stairs to my dimly lit kitchen. Fingers fumbling, I flipped on the lights and punched the coffee button to brew. The pot percolated, singing it’s usual serenade as I stared longingly out the window to my dimly lit backyard. Empty cup in hand, I waited patiently as I pondered my prayer from the night before.
Casey and I had been grappling with a monumental decision to enter into ministry. God was telling us to go but I still had an unsettled feeling and was struggling to figure out why. My mind was exhausted, my emotions were taxed, and a decision needed to be made. So, I had prayed before bed that I would wake up with answers. How soundly I had slept that night, resting on the promise that God would be faithful and guide me. Now early morning had come again, and there was no new revelation. Disappointed, I sighed heavily and poured out the cry of my heart as I flooded my mug with warm brew.
Where are you God? Why won’t you speak to me?
I reached for my laptop and logged on to my morning devotional, feeling unmotivated to read the current series about people in the Bible who had encountered Jesus.
"Must be nice," I grumbled greedily as I waited for the page to load.
It started like most other stories, a man who had come to Jesus asking questions and seeking answers. He was The Rich Young Ruler. You can read more about him in Matthew 19:16-26, but the gist of the story is this -- He considered himself to be religious and full of righteousness, but he loved his possessions and reputation more than he loved God and others. We know this because when Jesus asked him to surrender his status and follow Him, The Rich Young Ruler couldn’t do it. And the Bible said that he walked away and was grieved.
Grieved. The cursor blinked as I stared at the word. Out of all the feelings about this decision, I certainly wouldn’t have described any of them as grief. Yet, there I sat, letting the truth settle over me and permeate every part of my being. I had been greatly grieved by this process because...
I was The Rich Young Ruler. And I couldn’t surrender my kingdom.
Surrender isn’t a popular word these days for most people. Culture tells us that we need to be all things to all people. Only the strong will survive! But the Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t teach that. In fact, it teaches the opposite- peace instead of striving, the first being the last, the meek who inherit the earth. It’s a beautiful exchange, this upside down economy that Jesus offers us. My property, my possessions, my position in life- they had been defining me for entirely too long. God was asking me to cash them in and exchange them for something new, something way better. And the thought of that made me angry. It grieved me. I had a good little kingdom going on! One that I was serving faithfully and letting rule over me. I loved where I lived and what I had. My kids went to a great school and I was a teacher there. I was well known and well liked (at least I thought so!) My husband had an intriguing career that made us seem interesting and sometimes the center of attention. These things made me happy and told me who I was. Now God was asking me to give it all up and follow Him. But, my kingdom! What about my kingdom?? And then I thought of that prince on the page....
I could see him there, head down as he wandered away from the presence of Jesus. Perhaps he returned home to all that he had and realized it wasn’t enough. I’m guessing he knew all along. For he was The Rich Young Ruler. And most days, so am I. I want what Jesus has to offer, but I don’t want to give up what I have in order to receive it. The Bible calls that an idol- a trap that keeps us living in tiny man made kingdoms. It doesn't mean possessions are bad, it just means they shouldn't be worshiped. At the end of the day, this new opportunity for my family was nothing short of a question that Jesus was asking me….
Are you willing to give up your reign and really be my disciple?
God, in his mercy was reminding me of what I had forgotten all along; I don't need to build a kingdom with my hands when He's placed His in my heart. It's a kingdom that tells me who I am and where I belong and beckons me to come home. Joy filled my heart as I closed the lid to my laptop. God hadn't forgotten me. He had heard my prayer and answered it in His time and in a way that only I so perfectly needed to hear. I didn't have to walk away in grief. It was time to surrender the kingdom.
I sit at kitchen window, as they fall without a sound.
These pointed shapes with stems that always land on solid ground.
Months before they hung on high, green leaves lived out their calling.
No scampering squirrels or summer storms could force them into falling.
Today the fall winds blow, the humble tree, he senses this.
Unclenching fists of foliage, golds and reds no longer his.
It's now time to surrender what was once so tightly held.
He cannot hold what is not his, though he might feel compelled.
The petals find new purposes from all the letting go.
From canopy to compost they surrender to fall low.
I see those leaves, their arms stretched wide, soon kissing city streets.
My heart beats fast to think of faith and death defying feats.
Unlike my florid friends outside that drift, and float, I cling.
When new winds blow, I struggle to be carried without wing.
Instead I try to staple to my branch that now needs mended.
I long to stay high on my limb, so tidy and so tended.
The broken bark and winter wood, it begs me to let go.
It's time now for new seasons, seeking wonders I don’t know.
I fight to tear at limbs that once had held me so secure.
I’m frightened by the thought of knowing not what is for sure.
"Be free," I whisper softly, as I feel my fingers slip.
I see the open ground below, and tighten up my grip.
I’m not made for hard landings, broken pieces, shattered ends.
When falling means misfortune, I’d much rather try to bend.
And then I think of Jesus, how he let go of on high.
Came low to cling to wood and cross, to suffer and to die.
His matchless grace that saved me then, lives on to save me still.
The suffering he endured I do not know and never will.
By his breath he changes seasons and commands the winds to blow.
His hand reaches to save me, and to hear me he bends low..
And here I find my falling, not like leaf without a care.
My letting go means holding to the one my burden bares.
I’m free to find new places and new purposes in life.
Abandon can be found without the struggle or the strife.
The beauty of surrender, may my heart forever know.
I'm held in every season, there's no fear in letting go.
Recently, while visiting my grandmother, she asked to sit down with my daughter and me. Picture frame in hand, she explained that she wanted to give a gift to each of her five great granddaughters. My daughter sat puzzled as she examined the contents inside of the frame. I, on the other hand, instantly recognized the shapes beneath the glass. They were quilting patterns that belonged to my great grandmother. My grandmother explained that she found them years ago after her mother had passed away. Unsure of what to do with them at the time, she tucked them away for safe-keeping. Over two decades and five great granddaughters later, she knew that dividing them up among the girls would be the perfect gift for each of them.
A lump formed in my throat as I admired the shapes and remembered my great grandmother and her love of quilting. Fortunate to have several of her quilts, some of them over a hundred years old, I consider them to be one of my greatest treasures. Sewn together by her own two hands, her quilts are more than a work of art to me. Every piece of fabric and stitch points to a simpler way of life that involved time to sit and create. A time when attention to detail was of the utmost importance, and there was no rushing to finish a task. My great grandmother’s quilts remind me that life was meant to be cherished and enjoyed, and that every seam of it is being woven into a tapestry; a work of art in living color that reflects the sum of its parts.
While I was so thankful to watch my daughter holding a relic that my great grandmother once used, I was also saddened by the memories of her sitting with fabric stretched wide on a rack. And in that moment, I suddenly felt as though the thread that had hemmed generations of women together had somehow been tethered. Despite the fact that I had come from a long line of quilting women, I had never been one of them. I thought of all of those summers I had spent with my grandmother as a child but never took the time to learn. My grandmother no longer quilts. I had missed my opportunity to learn from her. My daughter would never learn from me what the women before me had learned from their mothers. My heart sank with regret as I realized I had let something so special slip through my fingers.
My daughter happily handed the frame to me and thanked my grandmother for the gift. I knew that she was appreciative but could not yet understand at her age what a special keepsake she had been given. As I sat there, holding the weight of five generations of women, I told my grandmother that I was sorry that I never took the time to learn from her what she had learned from her mother. And that’s when she hit me with a life changing truth.
“I didn’t learn how to quilt from your great grandmother,” she explained. In fact, when she was a little girl, her mother all but begged her to learn to quilt but my grandmother would have nothing to do with it. I sat there shocked as the image of my grandmother quilting with her mother shattered. In fact, my grandmother didn't begin quilting until she took an adult ed class at a local high school. "We made a pillow top," she told me. "And I thought, if I can make that, I can make a quilt."
My grandmother learned to love quilting in her own time and in her own way. She went on to make at least thirty quilts for friends and family members; praying for them while she worked on their quilts and reflecting on how much their lives meant to her. A wave of relief washed over me. The circle had not yet been broken. Not in theory, anyway.
While I know that this busy season of working and raising kids will not provide time for quilting, I can look forward to the day that I might have time to learn. And in the meantime, I can still pass on to my children the values that these quilts embody such as the importance of hard work, attention to detail, and the beauty of slow and steady progress in life.
The frame of my great grandmother’s quilting patterns now hangs in my living room. One day, it will be passed, along with the quilts, to my daughter and she she will pass them on to her children. And while those descendants will never know the women who stitched them together, they might be inspired to pick up a needle and thread one day and try a few stitches of their own. Either way, my prayer is the same, that they will view the fabric of their lives as an opportunity to create a glorious tapestry. And that they will sew to their hearts content, watching the beauty unfold.
I love everything about roller coasters. I love the soaring heights and the plunging depths, the terrifying twists and turns, the shrilling screams of the riders in free fall. My husband and kids love them, too. So much, in fact, that we almost always find ourselves at a theme park or boardwalk at least once every summer. There is, however, one problem….
I don't mesh well with metal contraptions.
My aversion to these death defying doohickeys is not mental, it’s physical. Simply put, I get motion sickness. Despite my best attempts to defy the laws of inertia, I wobble away feeling washed out and woozy. As a result, I have learned that life is better with my feet placed firmly on the ground, smiling bravely as my family spends their day in orbit above me. I don't mind serving as the human coat rack that holds their bags, phones, and ball caps while they race from one ride to the next. The long lines and crowds don't bother me much and I'm actually quite entertained by the endless hours of people watching while I stand around. It would actually feel like a fun day for me if it weren't for one little thing....
The coaster camera that snaps the shot.
You know the one that is taken at the highest peak of excitement on the ride? My husband is a huge fan of them and so it's a rare occasion when at least one is not purchased in an effort to memorialize the moment. And who can blame him? The expressions of thrill and terror are priceless, and we've had some doozies captured of our family. Earlier this summer, while gathering around to admire a purchased print, I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculous faces that were made. I also couldn't overlook the evidence that was right there in living color....
I wasn't on the ride.
Obviously, my family knows that my absence from the collection of coaster pics is for good reason. They understand that I've calculated the risks enough times to know that regretful regurgitation outweighs the risk of sky high adventure. But what about the rest of my life? If the moments of life's possibilities were all captured on camera, how many times would I be missing from the frame? What other opportunities and #blessings have I missed out on because I didn't get on the ride? How often have I looked at a situation and thought that the possible regret was easier to live with than the actual risk itself?
What if something goes wrong? What if it's just too terrifying? What if it ends in disaster?
I'm not talking about reckless living or unwise choices. I'm talking about the things in life that I choose to be absent from because the challenge seems too great, the outcome isn't known, or the cost is too high. I'm referring to the kind of mindset that keeps me from new adventures because I'm too afraid, I don't want to be inconvenienced, or I'm too worried about what others will think if I fail. That kind of thinking makes me want to back away rather than climb on board. It's a false sense of security that keeps me living small, watching and waving as the world flies by.
There's no denying the one thing in common among all of our coaster pics; some might love the thrill while others are clearly terrified, but at least they strapped themselves in. I don't want to look back on the snapshots of my life and regret the risks that I didn't take.
Hands in the air or white knuckling all the way, I want to be on the ride.
Twenty some years later, and I still have trouble getting the words out of my mouth...
I was the prom queen.
Not that a lot of people are asking these days, but you know what I mean. Actually, there’s even more to the story, because at my school, the prom queen was also designated as the high school representative in a state-wide beauty pageant. And guess what…
I was also the pageant queen.
And at the risk of sounding like an announcer on an infomercial, might I take it one step further to let you know that…THAT’S NOT ALL! Along with winning prom queen and pageant queen, you also get this free gift…
I was the homecoming queen as well.
It’s starting to get obnoxious, I know. And the worst part is that I don’t even really know how it happened. I had absolutely no poise or grace, and the only two items in my make-up bag were chap stick and eyeliner (not much has changed, by the way). Shouldn’t beauty queens have a little bit more to offer?
Recently, while visiting my mom, I stumbled upon a dilapidated cardboard box that she had carefully tucked away for safe-keeping. In it contained all of the relics of royalty from my days of old. I felt frozen in time as my fingers fixed on extracting the mind-boggling memorabilia; newspaper clippings, photographs, leaflets, and cards.
Digging deeper, I finally uncovered them; three jeweled crowns nestled among dried flowers and interwoven banners. I was feeling very "Miss Havisham" as I examined the treasures from a lifetime ago. And as I sat there, soaking up the nostalgia, the tiniest creak from the bedroom door stirred me back to my senses. There stood my daughter, surveying the room, and looking very puzzled by the mess.
As I motioned her over to sit down and join me, I realized that I had never really shared this part of my life with her. I’m not sure why, really. I guess I just didn’t want her to feel as though this was something that she had to live up to. It’s one thing to pretend to be a princess as a little girl. It is quite another to realize that the glass slipper was your mother’s, and your foot might not be the same size.
“All of this stuff,” I began to explain as she surveyed the room, “It’s not who I was. It’s just something I did.”
It sounded like the noble thing to say at the time, but as we sat amongst so many objects that reflected the need to perform, I wondered how true that statement actually was. Perhaps that really was the case in my high school days, but what about now?
Why do I often look to others for approval and identity?.
I can't tell you how many times I have sat down to try to write about uncovering the box of pageantry pleasures. And every time, I kept hitting delete. Why? I was too worried about what you would think of me, of course. Will someone reading this think that I am bragging? Being too haughty? Living in the past of my high school days? Delete. Delete. Delete. Let's face it...
Some days, I feel like I'm stuck in prom queen purgatory.
I strive for votes. I feel pressured to impress. I want people to be dazzled by me and like what I have to say. I hope they think that I am confident and clever, and that my clothes are cool...What does this shirt really say about me, anyway?
And just when I think I am making progress with this pathetic little issue of mine, a sorted voice from the bowels of hell comes creeping into my ears. "You're not enough," it whispers. "You need to be more, do more, accomplish more, and have more in order to be accepted."
Sitting on the floor with my daughter that day made me realize that that is a lie that I cannot afford to believe any longer. Not only for myself, but for the daughter that I am trying so desperately to raise in a world full of voices and images that are telling her who she needs to be.
Therefore, I hereby declare that I am relinquishing my crowns. And I'm not talking about selling the three I own on eBay, either. I'm talking about the ones that I feel I have to wear in order to be accepted. I'm cashing them in for the truth about me. A truth that I have known for a very long time, but often struggle to accept because it's just too good to be true...
God loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and to as many as receive Him, He gives the power to be sons and daughters of God (John 1:12).
I don't need to seek acceptance from others when I am loved by God. The need for approval is nothing short of a trap that leaves us feeling empty and lacking. But when we realize that God loves us, accepts us, and does not ask us to perform in order to be accepted, we find freedom. We can stop striving to earn the merits and metaphorical crowns from others and rest in the knowledge that we are already members of a royal priesthood. All we have to do is say yes to it. And there we find our acceptance and our motivation to accept one another. "We love, because he first loved us." (1John 4:10)
I never did end up bringing that box at my mom's back home with me. I figured I might as well leave all that striving behind. Maybe the next time we visit, my daughter can take out the crowns and put them on her head and dance around the bedroom. And my prayer for that sweet princess of mine is that she will know how much she is loved and accepted; not for what she does, but for who she is. Only there will her identity be found.
I have to admit it, Taylor. You’re song “22” has been playing in my head for months.
Not as an anthem, but a parody.
I’ve reworded your lyrics and renamed your title a thousand times. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to come up with anything that doesn’t resemble a third grade math problem….
“22 + 20”
“Almost half a century”
“22 add a few”
You see, I’m 42 today. And I have to say that singing the younger, hipper version of your song has made me feel well, a little slighted about life.
You’re young. I’m old.
You’re dressing up like a hipster. I’m lucky to find an ironed shirt for work in the morning.
You’re having breakfast at midnight. I’m serving cold cereal to my family for dinner.
I think you get the picture, here. While you’re ditching the whole scene, I’m doing the daily grind. I’m tired, Taylor, and the contrast of your life compared to mine leaves me wanting to pop the top down on my convertible (if I had one) and drive far away from my adult responsibilities.
But there’s no running away at 42, little lady. Oh no, that’s when you put on the big girl pants and DEAL. And just when you think that you can’t take one more single day of the monotony… THIS HAPPENS
My nine year old came down the stairs today and gave me this paper as a birthday gift. He’ll be embarking on the teen years soon and so anything that he makes me these days is beyond precious, but this took the proverbial birthday cake today.
I mean, really, have you ever seen anything so marvelous in all your Wildest Dreams? I am scratching my head every time I read it; this acronym that he made about me. Honestly, I don’t really feel like I shed a light of this incredible integrity at any moment of the day but can I just tell you that if he even sees an ounce of this in me, I am FOREVER rejoicing because here is the thing...
In the midst of the messy, frantic, I can’t get this right EVER life that I feel like I am living, my sweet prince sees THIS! I mean, this is grace at it’s finest; God doing this miraculous thing where I give Him my broken mess and he gives me His goodness and then my kid picks it up and writes it down about me and I say, AMEN to it all.
And so, in light of this sincere sonnet spun by my son, I just want to sing....
"Yea….I’m happy, free ,confused and lonely at the same time.
It’s miserable and magical oh yea….
Tonight I have to meet a million deadlines…
I don’t know about you.. but I’m feelin' forty two.
Everything will be alright when I don't know what to do.
You don’t know about me, but someday you’ll want to.
Everything will be alright if we just keep dancin' like we're forty two ooohhhh"
Oh, and did you notice that he signed it, “Love, Batman”? Life. Is. Good.
He sat across from me at the restaurant, trying to sweet talk me for my phone while we waited for our food to arrive.
“We’re not playing Madden,” I told him. “We’re on a date and we’re going to talk to each other.”
This was the first time that I had my nine year old all to myself in over a month and I was looking forward to our evening together, just the two of us. Finally conceding to the fact that technology was not part of the plan for the evening, he began to venture into discussions with me about things that intrigue the mind of a young boy who is on the cusp of a double digit birthday in June. We racked our brains to come up with answers to important questions like what three things we would most like to have if stranded on an island and what we would do with a million dollars. I love capturing those moments of insight and humor with my kids. And once in awhile, one of them will say something to me that pierces my heart and reminds me that there is so much that God is trying to teach me through my children.
While eating our meal, I glossed my napkin over the side of my face; the same side where a dark brown birthmark is situated by my lip. Watching me, my son put down his burger and said, “Mom, I don’t think about your birthmark when I look at you. I don’t really see it anymore.” The comment took me a bit by surprise because well, let's face it, that mole is not hard to miss.
He then explained, bless his heart, that when he looks at me, he just sees me as his mom, not the mark on my face.
If he weren't nine, I would wonder if he knew about the struggle that I have in life to keep my blemishes from plain sight. I might even ask him if he had made the birthmark comment in an effort to encourage me because here's the thing... I often lack the courage to let others see my faults and I would much rather present a pretty face to the world.
I was a huge fan of the Dixie Chicks in the nineties and embraced the song, "Wide Open Spaces" as my anthem. I remember rolling the windows down in my jeep and singing the tune to the top of my lungs.
“She needs wide open spaces
Room to make the big mistakes…”
Oh how I wanted the words of that song to encapsulate who I was; an assured and fearless young woman who unflinchingly took risks and dared to follow her dreams. But in reality, I was anything but ready to strike out for all the world to see.
Forget the wide open spaces, give me a small quiet room with zero percent chance of failure. No big mistakes here, thanks. Just tiny gaps, please. Tiny gaps of right choices and unending anxiety about screwing the whole thing up in front of people.
I've made some progress in my attempts at lionhearted living since then, and what I am finding is that true bravery is found in letting people get to know my story...just as it is. Nothing photoshopped. No perfect filter. Just me as I am for all the world to see.
And guess what I'm seeing? The wide open spaces really aren't that wide. The gap is not huge, the expanse is not unreachable, the chasm is not too far. When I open up about my own challenges, I find that the person right next to me is struggling with something similar as well. It might not be under the same circumstance, but the battle is still there. And their story gives me courage to face mine. And because of this, I am beginning to understand a very profound truth that is propelling me into unabashed freedom....
I would much rather be authentic than impressive, and that requires vulnerability.
I think the real reason why I used to love that southern anthem of mine was because the lyrics suggested packing up and starting over with new faces; a chance to get it right with a clean slate of people. People who don't see my marks and are impressed by my perfection. But true freedom can't be found there for me. It's found right where I am with the relationships I have that are real and sometimes messy because we've shared the truth about ourselves and are still sticking around in spite of it. We become immune to impressing others when we settle in and let them see us in our broken, messed up story. Our lives become relevant and redeemable when we choose to share the reality of our busted up beings instead of some trumped up version of who we really are.
There is beauty in sharing the imperfect adventures that we are living as we begin to view the shattered pieces that we try to hide as situated segments that God wants to use. We can stop striving to cover up the potholes and quit making pitstops on the road of pretending. No more detours driven by doubt, no more u-turns in our unsettled souls. Just our feet on the gas, with the wind in our hair, as we bravely share the broken road.
I’m sitting here bracing myself for the bombardment of snow that is beginning to fall in our area. It is predicted to be a record breaking storm with totals as high as twenty to thirty inches. A state of emergency has been declared, weekend events have been cancelled, and the empty grocery store shelves that I walked by two nights ago looked like something out of an episode of The Walking Dead. It appears from everything that I have read, heard, and seen that this storm is going to go down according to plan. Despite the potential for power outages and the threat of dangerous conditions that a storm like this can bring, this is the kind of blizzard that I like the best; one with a plan that has met the expectations.
I've heard it's been said that running is like the opera; you either love it or hate it.
I’m obviously on the love side of things as I’ve been a runner for almost thirty years. I started in junior high with track and quickly became addicted to the runner’s high (yes, it’s real) and haven't stopped since.
I love the way that running makes me feel both physically and mentally but I definitely have a few quirks about the way the whole thing goes down; I have to run in the morning, I don’t listen to any music, and there is no way that I would even consider stepping one foot out the door without at least one cup of coffee under my belt beforehand.
Running a marathon had been on my bucket list since my twenties, but life events and lack of gumption kept me from doing it. By the time my mid thirties rolled around, I had done a couple of smaller races and felt like it was time to tackle the biggie. I registered for the Rock N Roll Marathon in DC and still remember the surge of nervousness when I clicked the submit button on the online form.
I downloaded a training guide and followed it religiously as the weeks rolled along and the miles started racking up. As the countdown grew closer, I was pounding out two to three hours of running a day. I was so proud of the hard work that I had put into the process. I hadn’t taken a single day off unless the protocol called for it and I honestly felt like I had this whole marathon thing in the bag.
The long awaited race day quickly arrived. I remember nervously walking to the starting line as the DJ cranked up the tunes and the emcee counted down the minutes until the race would be set into motion. The excitement was overwhelming as the starting gun soon fired and I was ushered into a sea of bodies all moving in the same direction. I was able to shake off some of the nervousness as I got into a running groove and enjoy the spectacular sights as we ran through some of the most beautiful parts of the city. The first ten miles or so seemed like I was gliding on air and while I knew from my training that I needed to pace myself, I remember thinking that the next few hours weren't going to be that bad.
At mile thirteen, the momentum shifted. Because the race was designed for both a half and full marathon, the large group that I was running with suddenly took a turn. These were the half marathon runners and they were headed back to the finish line. The first mental hurdle of the marathon hit me as I struggled to work through the sudden drop in people that had been running beside me moments before. I was beyond envious that my former racing cohorts were wrapping this up and heading back to the tents for a massage and some food. I took a quick look beside and behind me and realized that I was suddenly alone. And then, another terrifying thought quickly presented a wave of panic throughout my body. I had to now run this entire length all over again.
You know that saying about the rubber meeting the road? Yea, that was happening in every way.
I decided to put in my ear buds and listen to music (thanks to my husband who insisted that I have some just in case) in an effort to try to overcome the self defeating conversation that was taking place in my mind. I cranked up the song and determined that I was going to finish this thing no matter what. I quickly reset my pace, dug in my heels, and soldiered on.
And then, around mile seventeen, it happened. I hit the proverbial running wall which is the inevitable event that occurs for many in a marathon when your body suddenly starts shutting down. You become excessively fatigued and begin to cramp as a result of your body using all of its carbohydrates and switching over to take energy from your muscles. And when I say that I hit it, I mean that without the slightest warning, everything that was working moments before came to a screeching halt.
The desire to finish was gone, the limbs of my body didn't work, and my mind and heart began to justify every single reason why laying down on the pavement and being picked up by the garbage truck, despite all of the training that I had put in, was the best solution to ending the madness. With my husband, friends, and children waiting for me at the finish line, there was no way that I was going to quit. I quickly determined that it was going to take everything that I had in me to finish and I spent the next nine miles struggling to lift my feet and telling myself a thousand times each minute to put one foot in front of the other in an effort to make it home before dark.
Just keep going. Don’t slow down or you will quit. Just finish the race.
The rest of the experience was really a blur aside from seeing people holding signs and feeling desperately defeated by the 23 mile marker as I tried to comprehend that I still had three more miles to go. Eventually, as if a siren had gone off for a four alarm fire, I heard a woman’s voice from somewhere alongside of the road finally declaring that I only had a quarter of a mile left. I somehow managed to pick up the pace as I rounded the corner. The applause of the spectators along with the hopes of seeing the familiar faces of family and friends were inevitably what somehow managed to hurl my lifeless body over the finish line. I remember someone placing a medal around my neck, officially dubbing me as a marathoner as I reached for a bottle of water and scarfed down a banana. I was both elated and exhausted afterwards as my loved ones gathered around and congratulated me on this monumental achievement.
Looking back, the entire experience seems very surreal. And while the race itself certainly required a lot of doing at the time, there are also a few don'ts that I have gleaned since taking that 26.2 mile trip through the capitol...
At the end of the day, the marathon of life is really no different than lacing up your shoes for 26.2 miles of pavement pounding purgatory. The race is tough and painful, the voice in your head insists that you give up, exhaustion takes over, and everywhere you look it seems that others are taking the easy way out. But eventually, the finish line is in sight and it’s better than you ever dreamed. And when it's all said and done, you can say that you finished well, even if you did have to be carried to your car when it was over.