Thursday, January 30, 2014

Storms on a Mountain

In many parts of my life, especially the 'outdoorsy' part, I'm a far better admirer than a participant.  If there's a physically demanding aspect to an activity, I seriously consider the options, assess my true desire, and go from there.  Usually, this means I sit out on a whole scope of physically demanding activities.  Call it lazy if you want, but I prefer to look at it as protective.  A big part of me protects my physical self just because of the injuries, aches, pains, and stuff that is aging me faster than I really would like.  Mostly, this stems from issues with my back.  When you're diagnosed in your teens with a degenerative disc disease and have some degree of pain on a daily basis, you are cognizant of what movements and activities increase that pain.  And you generally avoid it.

Because of this, in all the years that I called Colorado home, I can probably count on two hands how many times I actually took the 'participanty' route.  As in, I got out of the vehicle, put my feet on the craggy ground, and took precarious steps forward and upward.  And don't get me wrong.  I did not at all qualify as a mountain climber/hiker/whatever they're called {see what I mean?  I probably didn't deserve to live in a state such as Colorado}, but rather behaved like a tourist, an admirer.  Basically, I was there for the scenery...and the photo ops.

One of these rare participanty times, when I wavered along the edge of the category 'adventurous' 'typical Colorado tourist', was when one of my lifelong best friends came to visit a few months after Gavin was born.  Because she had never been to the Rockies, we took a drive to the top of Mt. Evans, which boasts the highest paved road in North America, spectacular views, and an exhilarating feeling that you're pretty much as close to the heavens as you can get, for a non-mountain climber/hiker/whatever they're called.  

this is 'tame' compared to further up the mountain
The fourteen miles of pretty frigging narrow road twists and winds, snakes around and around and back and forth, and offers more than a few nerve-wracking hairpin turns that allow the passenger a view of the plummet that awaits should the driver be less-than-cautious.  

[Sidebar: probably an awesome road on which to drive our baby.]

At any rate, we arrived at the 'top' and parked the truck.  When you arrive at the parking lot at the top of the mountain, you can check out the views, possibly catch a glimpse of the mountain goats who call the terrain home, and enjoy the glory that is the over 14,000 ft altitude.

Or you can climb to the 'real top'.

To make it to the true summit, you have about 1/4 mile hike from the parking lot.  This 'hike' will take you up to an altitude of 14,264 feet, and give you the opportunity to tell your friends that you climbed a 14'er in Colorado.

So that's what we did.  My sweet friend, her {now} husband, and I decided to trek to the top while Randy hung out with Gavin in the parking area.

I remember breathlessly arriving at the true summit, feeling exhilaration, filled with awestruck wonder.  As we looked around, taking in the amazing 360 degree views, we noticed the dark clouds to our west.

The park ranger in the parking area had echoed the warnings posted on various signs, all stating that weather conditions can change very quickly at these altitudes.  Thunderstorms aren't really something you want to mess around with at this altitude, especially considering you're standing atop one of the highest places in the surrounding area.  The thunderclouds almost seemed like they appeared from no where as we made the hike to the top.  I thought we'd have a bit more time to calmly enjoy the glory God had laid out before us, but seeing as how He is in charge, we took the booming thunder and flashes of lightning as a sign, and the three of us scrambled back down the rocky path and back to the truck so we could switchback down to lower, safer ground.

In nearly 8 years of living in Colorado, that was the one and only time I can say I officially superficially hiked to the top of a 14'er.  Because of my physical limitations, I didn't naturally gravitate toward that kind of activity; and I guess I jokingly assumed God was telling me to stick to lower altitudes with that storm that send me quickly {but cautiously} heading down from the summit.
And so now here I am.  Miles {and years} away from my ventures in the mountains, yet I'm still navigating jagged and uncertain ground.  I was travelling down my comfortable Colorado roads, heading in what looked like and felt like the right direction, only to have a hairpin turn slow my progress and turn me in a southeastern direction to Texas.

After travelling a few hundred yards in that opposite direction, however, I realize it was a necessary and unavoidable turn.  A navigational adjustment God placed along my path, just for me, so I could continue my upward progress.  So I trusted.  I trusted, and I kept travelling.
"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."      ~Jeremiah 29:11
I have wanted to reach that summit, bask in that glory, and enjoy the views.   But, because I'm more comfortable as an admirer rather than a participator, I approached the turns with hesitation.  With trepidation.  I'm halted, staring in a dazed disbelief of my reality, disoriented by where I was and in which direction I was heading.  I hung out on the outside edge of a steep turn for a bit; staring aimlessly at the nerve-wracking views, unable to decide which way to move, or even if I should move.

At some point, however, the narrow road became crowded, and I had to make a move.  I realized my stagnant state was impacting the upward movement of those who were travelling along with me.  So I made a move.  And then another.  I kept stepping, slowly climbing out of my despair, and finally I arrived at the parking lot, a space where I could find rest and solace and comfort.  The place where my mind could be at ease, where my mind began to feel again.  The place where my heart awakened, softened, and opened in a way it hadn't opened before.  I realized I didn't want to just be an admirer, I wanted needed to participate.

So I stepped away from the parking lot.

I began to climb.

The climb hasn't been easy.  Because I know God {more than I ever have, that is}, I know it's not meant to be 'easy'.  I know my earthly struggles are part of what it means to follow Him, and, most days, I'm okay with that.  Most days, I trudge along in my climb, hyper-focused on the summit, engrossed in the Word, weaving His truths into my life, relying on them for peace and calm and joy and happiness.  I don't even stop to take in the views along the way, take a moment to peer over the edge and acknowledge how far I've come.  I only worry about how much farther I have yet to go.  I just want to be 'there'--where ever there is.

I want to be more of a participant.  I feel that my voracious reading, my frenetic highlighting and note-taking and journaling will make me feel more 'participanty'.  So I find admiring wavering, slowing, halting.  I stop acknowledging the glory all around me.  I ignore the magnificent views from the path I travel, and purposefully plod forward.  I hop on the pendulum and ride it almost completely over to the side labeled 'Participant'.

But because my state of being 'admirey' has been curbed by my insatiable need to focus on participating, I don't see the storm clouds off in the distance.  I don't notice the way in which they loom on the perimeter of my peripheral vision, the ominous way in which they hang back and wait for the perfect moment to come forward and knock me back unexpectedly.  All I notice is how tough the climb is.  I notice the craggy rocks that threaten to contort my ankle.  I notice my labored breathing due to the altitude.  I notice the frigid temperatures.  All of my noticings are because of my participating, not my admiring.  They are all things that can impact my climb, throw me off course, and land me in a less-desired place.  So, I pay very close attention to these attributes of my participation travels, and I plod forward.  I climb and reach.

I arrive.  Not quite the 'summit', because I know that will not happen in my earthly life, but I feel good about where I am.  The trail ahead of me is masked in a glorious fog that doesn't feel in the least bit intimidating, but only motivating.  I know that as I continue learning and growing and identifying and becoming, that fog will give way to even more amazing views.  But for now, I'm content.  I feel that I've reached where I need to be.  So I lift my head and I look around.

And there it is.

My own little storm cloud; the one that was not long ago loitering on the outskirts of my life, keeping me humble; is right overhead.  Before I realize it, I'm retreating.  I'm shirking away from blissful feelings, turning inward upon myself and protecting myself from the threat of the storm.  It hits blindly, knocks me down, takes me back to a point where I'm stagnant.  A point where I'm staring off into the distance, yet unable to focus.  A point where I'm overwhelmed and lost and my compass isn't cooperating.  I can't get up the strength to climb with the tenacity I held not that long ago.  My participating self and admiring self find the pendulum has stopped entirely, the momentum of which is what keeps me moving forward.

I'm in a fog.  Not the good fog.  Not the glorious fog that God uses to keep His plans masked until the time is right.  No, no...not that fog.  The fog of depression.  The fog of anxiety.  The fog of indifference.  The fog of self-loathing and misunderstood and misguided frustration.

But through the fog, even through the thick and soupy consistency of a depression setback, I hear this:
Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will not leave you nor forsake you.     ~Deuteronomy 31:6
What I learned in my {insanely limited} experience with storms in the mountainous regions seasons is their unpredictability can take you to places you aren't expecting, and in this case, this storm is forcing me back down; giving me feelings of uncertainty, confusion, numbness, and overwhelmed repression.

But another thing I've learned, another thing I know is that these storms are temporary.  They are part of the journey, part of my climb, part of the path I must travel.  I hold fast to the truths that have come to ground me and give me hope, but I still battle the thunder and am startled by the lightning.

This little set back, this storm cloud, is no where near as big and intimidating as I've been seen before.  There are sunny spots and places where the clouds aren't so dense, and its in those places where I find hope.

I know sitting back and being an admirer isn't what its going to take to get back up to the place where my views reach for miles, where I welcome the rocky trail and chilly temperatures and thinning air that means I'm back on the path with a renewed and steadfast passion to continue climbing.

Today, for the first day in about a week, I looked up and saw a sunny space of hope in the midst of the clouds.  I pushed past the darkness, crawled out from my protection, and took some cautious steps toward my path.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.     ~Proverbs 3:5-6

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I once was lost

Gavin was just a few squishy, squeaky weeks old when I sat across from my mother-in-law and prayed for Jesus to come in to my heart.  Teary-eyed, sleep deprived, and overwhelmed, I knew I needed help.  I needed something, or someone on whom I could rely for comfort and understanding, a listening ear, and a shoulder on which to cry--in the middle of the night or the middle of the day or even the middle of the grocery store.  I knew I'd stepped into a world in which I could not navigate alone; a world for which there was no specific map, no definitive set of instructions, no inkling of what each day or month or year might bring.  

Parenthood wasn't something we had immediately set our sights on once we were married in June 2005.  After all, the majority of our early relationship could be categorized as 'long distance', with a few spans of time where our proximity to one another was much more desirable.  Because of the physical distance between us during much of our relationship and engagement, we had planned on enjoying a few years of married life doing 'couple-y' sort of things before jumping in to the world of parenthood.

But God had other plans.
sidebar: I mean, really.  Randy looks about 15 years old, right?
So there we were, having just moved almost 2,000 miles from our families, in the midst of figuring out living-together life and married life and new-job {times 2} life and homeowner life...and then we were parents.  And let me tell you something.  Nine months was *not* enough time to prepare for the changes and struggles and adjustments we were up against.  Exhaustion and hormones and schedules made for a few less-than-graceful comments, some frustration-filled words, and unkind actions.  

One of these strained exchanges happened in the presence of my visiting in-laws.  I don't even remember what it was to be honest, but my mother- and father-in-law sensed something was 'up'...something was 'off'.  I'm not sure what {or even if} there was a concerned exchanged between the two of them, but I remember sitting in my living room with my MIL while Randy and his dad were in the basement.  Later, in a debriefing with Randy, he and I discovered some similarities with the general direction of our concurrent conversations.

At the time, we were kind of frustrated.  Annoyed by the discovery of what appeared to be a covert operation to check in on the status of our marriage.  I was in agreement with my husband that it seemed all too convenient that we were each approached in a concerned, yet non-threatening way in what appeared to be an assessment of the depth of our commitments.

While I did experience a bit of confusion and defensiveness after the fact, the talk with my MIL was one I won't ever regret having.  It was 'the' conversation.  The one that more or less began my Christian walk.  

I had heard of God before this of course.  I knew about Him, heard His name not only in church, but in anger-filled shouts of dismay when things went awry.  Cursing His name in frustration, throwing the term 'thank God' around like it was a casual catch phrase, and having a crucifix hanging somewhere in the house.  All things I was familiar with.  I went to the church, but I wasn't at the church.  I spent my time standing/sitting/kneeling and counting down the minutes until I heard the words "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord."  For me, it wasn't a place of refuge but a place of rule-following.  Traditions and rituals and expectations never fostered the personal connection I was so desperately desiring.

So I walked away.

When I met Randy, I called myself my religion, but I think it was honestly because I hated the idea of not having something God-related with which to identify.  I believed because that was what I had been taught to believe, but I didn't necessarily agree with or feel connected to the way in which I'd spent my childhood learning about Him.

I remember the first time I went to church with Randy and his parents.  Talk about night and day.  Physically the building and its interior were different, spiritually the energy level felt different {'good' different}, and before I knew it I being introduced to the pastor, who welcomed me with a hug {a hug! from the pastor!}.  

This was what I had been looking for.  

The authenticity of his message, the electric energy of people all coming together who wanted to be there {rather than feeling they have to or ought to be there}, and the way in which nearly everyone there not only had *their own* bibles, but they had {gasp!} written in them...I was stunned.  And, to be honest, still a little skeptical.  I mean, really?  This was church?  Where was the pomp and circumstance?  The candles and stained glass and gilded accouterments and rituals that made everything seem more 'official' {for lack of a better word}?  Why in the world was there a huge screen and Power church??  It all seemed overwhelming, all the while striking chords of curiosity in my heart.  

Over the course of our relationship, Randy's mom would talk to me about God; sharing her faith, sending books, emailing and texting scripture.  And to be honest, I received each of them with a slightly clouded mind.  Randy and I didn't have a lot of in-depth discussions about faith and our beliefs in the beginning parts of our relationship, nor did we really engage in such once we were married.  In hindsight, it would have befit us to do so, however I do know that we're on the right course despite our earlier ignorance {or, more accurately, our 'ignore'-ance} to such fundamental relationship building blocks.

I was a ship sailing the seas with three different maps.  I had an old map, showing well-worn traditional routes of travel that were used ritually by countless people over the years.  I carried a new map, filled with routes that were random and individual, yet all seemed relational to one another.  The interesting thing about these routes is they all centered around one specific focal point.  And I also carried a self-made map.  I had tried diligently to make sense of the new map but was so familiar with that old map that I tried blending the two together into a creation that seemed to be working, but I often found myself lost in murky or turbulent waters, having traveled around and around in circles, or completely off course all together.  Turns out my map was getting me no where fast.

Seven years and three kids.  That's how long I traveled with that hybrid map, lost and confused on an open ocean with no land in sight.  My resources were running about as low as my sanity and energy and inner-soul happiness.  I needed to figure it out.

September, 2012.  

An opportunity my husband had been waiting for at work had unfortunately been on the back burner, causing a bit of frustration, while simultaneously an entirely new opportunity that offered an alternative direction, a new state, and new possibilities became available.  Without a whole lot of time to prepare mentally, emotionally, or physically {thank you, God, for providing professional movers}, we were heading down the dusty trail with the Rockies in our rear view, and a whole lot of...well...not much ahead of us.  

one of our last moments with the Rocky Mountains in our sight
pretty much the *opposite* of the Rocky Mountains...
And it was hard.  'So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye' wasn't what I wanted to say {Or sing.  Because now I totally am singing it.  And will totally have to watch the movie after writing this.}.  I wanted to keep on teaching, keep on experiencing life on a Rocky Mountain high {not that kind of high}, and keep geographically close to the friends with whom I had come to know and love over the past seven and a half years.

But God had other plans.
deep in the heart...
"Are you an American?"
"Nah...I'm a Texan."
State pride runs deep here.
And oh my goodness, has it been hard, y'all.  It was one thing when Randy and I moved to Colorado right after we were married.  We were kicking off our life together with a fun adventure, a fresh start, and two new jobs from which we found lifelong friendships.  We learned how to be married there, we became parents there, we built our family there.  Our roots were deep.

Or so I thought.  

While I still have strong ties to my 'home state', many connections with sweet people with whom I love to keep in contact, and years worth of memories {and photos} to cherish from that season in our life, the truth is the root of me isn't tied to a particular geographic location.  The root of me is in my family.  And it's in The One with whom I've come to know, come to love, come to follow.

When I first met Randy and got to know his family, I was introduced to God and faith from a whole different perspective.  I was intrigued, yet confused.  I was struggling to find my own way, but was so adamant that I didn't really need anyone to help me, that I ignored the One who was planning my way for me, regardless of what I thought I could control.  I mean really.  Who would have imagined me, living life as a stay at home mom in Texas?  For a girl who, from age 5, dreamed of and dedicated her life to becoming a teacher, to utter the words "I don't know if I'll go back to the classroom"?  I can tell you things in my life have changed.

In late April of 2013, while Randy was travelling out of the country, I woke up one Sunday morning feeling a pull on my heart.  I did a little schedule checking online and said to the kids, "get dressed guys, we're going to go to church this morning".  Much to my surprise, all three kids happily ran upstairs to get changed.  Fast forward a few hours {and a few goosebumps and [happy] tears--all mine}, and the kids were reluctantly walking away from their church classrooms, asking me when they got to go back.  Wow.  

It's been just about nine months since we joined our church.  Nine months of growing and changing and developing and learning and taking it all in and making it personal and recognizing the type of relationship I was needing and craving and wanting when I spent those years dangling my feet from the pew counting minutes or pages of the hymnal or hairs on the head of the balding man ahead of me.  

The difference between these nine months and the nine months I spent during my first pregnancy {and second and third}, trying to prepare for the unknown is that these nine months I know who God is, rather than just having 'heard of him' as I half-tuned in to a droning sermon.  This time around, I found my sense of worry diminishing.  I felt the fear of the unknown and the potential changes and struggles and adjustments coming down the pike someday less daunting and all-consuming.  During these nine months, my physical body didn't change {...much...I guess.  I am a bit partial to some good ole Texas BBQ though *wink, wink*}.  But instead, my soul changed.  My heart softened and my sense of gratitude grew.  All good kinds of growing.  No treadmills required for maintenance {*praise hands*}.

And yes, there are similarities between the spans of time as well.  I crave.  Just as I craved Oreos or pastrami, or ice, I crave that pocket of time each day when I can spend some time with Him.  I dream.  Just as I dreamed of the amazing day I'd get to hold my sweet little baby for the first time, I dream of the amazing things that He has planned for me and for my family.  I pray.  Of course I prayed for the health and well-being of our son, our family, our marriage...but now I pray differently.  Gone are the days of what seemed like a Christmas wish list.  I now live in a world where my prayers sound different, feel different, and are more like a conversation between two friends.  

Don't get me wrong.  I still have a lot to learn.  A lot.  And that's okay.  Because I don't feel pressure from anyone.  I find what works for me, and what I've found in doing this is that He gives me just what I need, when I need it.  He's provided the places and people and resources all of which help me make sense of that new map.  I love the relational aspect of that map, the central focus toward which we are all sailing, and the support system I have come to find as I navigate my course.

The truth is I've changed.  More accurately, the Truth has changed me.  Back in 2006, when I sat and prayed those words with my mother-in-law, with tears in my eyes, I was reaching out.  I was searching for a lighthouse I had an innate desire to find, but at the time, my maps had me veering off course and even in the wrong direction.  The years I spent half-entertaining the ideas and truths my MIL would discuss with me were years I now wish I had not lost in my own ignorance and dismissal.  However today I can say that without her love, without her support, without her trust in Him, I would not be in the place I am today.  Physically?  Possibly.  I know God knew all along that I we needed Texas and all it has to offer in our lives.  But I'm talking in my soul.  My heart would not be softened, my mind would not be opened, my life would not be as purposeful.  God brought Randy to me, and for that, my gratitudes are eternal.  But additionally with my husband came an influence in my life for which I didn't even realize I needed.  And through her influence, my curiosity became piqued enough that I found the courage to walk through the doors of what I proudly call 'our church'.  

I'm so grateful for God and his other plans.

April, 2010

Friday, January 10, 2014

give me some feathers and web my feet

We took the kids to a nearby state park the day after Christmas.  We {read: Gavin} had a specific goal in mind: to spot some gators in their natural murky, marshy prehistoricness.  Grammy was visiting, so she stepped out of her comfort zone a bit to trek alongside watery bogs and navigate dirt-and-rock trails flanked on either side by bramble and trees and creepy-crawly and snake-filled uncertainty.  We weren't all quite outfitted for an afternoon of hiking and 'state parking'; as I'm sure Brynn's neon pink maxi dress, navy cardigan, silver ballet flats, and messenger-bag style purse grabbed the attention of 'real state parkers', but she worked it, owned it, and didn't think anything odd or out of place.  God love her individuality and spunk.
we happened upon a rope hanging from a tree, and in no time she was as dizzy as her fluffy curls

a little park play after a day of gator hunting
Raegan was awestruck by the wildlife, canopies of trees, and mess-making potential of a seemingly endless supply of dirt and mud.  She wavered back and forth between gripping daddy during less-than-certain moments, and taking her super-appropriate state-park-type shoes sandals off to run barefoot along the splintery wood and rock covered play structure and climb trees.  No fear.  {Except when we were spotting gators}.
the best possible choice of footwear for a terrain such as this

seeking the higher ground

{barefoot} fairy girl in her tree

And of course, there's Gavin.  My sweet boy loves himself some 'sploring.  The downside to life in suburbia is he's not as well-acclimated as his bravery-laden visualizations would imply.  While he may spend countless early weekend mornings watching Call of the Wildman on Animal Planet and scattering random rubber snakes and lizards around the house with the dual purpose of imaginary play and scaring the living bejesus out of his barefoot mama, the reality of 'the great outdoors' proved to be a bit bothersome at times.

pleasant, isn't he?
 Of course, he did shake his grumpiness for the chance at checking out the gator-infested swamps

And what boy's day in the great outdoors isn't complete without taking advantage of something mom will NEVER let you do at home?
yeah.  he's doing what you think he's doing.
While we were standing on an observation dock, looking out over a lake and admiring wildlife, there were a couple buzzard vulture-laden trees directly across from us.  

Stark black figures so often associated with death, perched ominously over a life-filled lake with various duck-type birds {definitely not an outdoorsy kinda gal}, fish, and turtles.  The disharmony struck me.

I love watching ducks on a lake.  There's something about the way they glide along haphazardly before randomly ducking their heads {ha} beneath the water in an attempt to snag a morsel from the murky depths.  They're brave little creatures, teetering between the boundary of lungs and gills, sticking their little ducky butts up high and proud, without fear of judgement.  Even in the shadow of a Halloweenesque tree, these little web-footed friends explore every area of that lake; bobbing up and down each time they find potential food.

I'm working on becoming more like these ducks.  My feathered friends are quite versatile members of the animal kingdom.  They can hang with their flock in the air, gather their team on the ground, or set sail with their paddling upon lakes and ponds where they can teeter totter above and below the surface.  They are often chilling with their posse, but are cool with wandering about even if a fellow duck friend isn't right by their side.  They aren't afraid to 'test the waters' by diving below the surface for something they desire.  They become a vulnerable buoy with their bottoms waggling clumsily as they focus eyes on the prize.  

Yeah, I want to be like a duck.  

I want to have loved ones in various environments and of distinct and diverse upbringings and viewpoints.  I want to glean from them what it's like to walk a mile in their shoes, to hear their experiences and live in their stories.  I want to know what they've seen, what it feels like to be where they are and who they are and how they came to be.  I want to breach the surface and dive in deep to the lives of people, to breathe in their air and see the world as they see it.  I want to have a broad perspective of the different ways people live, know what their ominous tree of buzzards looks like to them, and help them overcome the fear of living in the shadow of their cloud.

I want to have a flock, a crew, a home group of people with whom I am most at ease, and from whom I feel the most love and adoration, and I want to keep them close by.  I want to be brave enough to paddle along by myself, seeking what it is that I crave and what I need for sustenance.  I want to know I've got others out there on that same lake with me, but who are giving me the opportunity to head into the cattails or between the logs and the rocks, even if they know the search may be fruitless.  I want to be brave enough to teeter myself into different worlds, in the hopes of finding a morsel of inspiration and truth.  I want to be able to be vulnerable to stick my ducky tush out there for the world to see, without fear of judgement and shame because I know what I'm going after is bigger than the opinions of those who are behind me.  

Yeah, I want to be like a duck.
mama duck {obviously not in a 'ducky' environment, but I'm almost always behind the camera}

my favorite ducklings
{quack, quack}

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Show me your wrinkled sheets!

We all have a space of our life in which we feel the *need* to have things neat and square and fluffed and smoothed.  A place where you can find some calm and comfort in the midst of the chaos of life; a space where you can look to or gravitate towards or settle upon when you need a moment to take in a wink and nod of peace.

I'm a sucker for a neatly made bed.  Soft cotton sheets with taut hospital corners, a smoothed and even duvet, lots of puffy pillows piled at the head of the bed, and a minky, plush throw blanket adorning the foot in a purposefully-made-to-look-haphazard way.  The kind of bed where dreams are made extra sweet.

And that's just where that kind of bed lives.  In my dreams.  

The real-life beds in my house are wrinkly and random, sheets and blankets are askew, nine hundred stuffed animals and blankets that are anything but minky and plush {more like well-loved, worn, and smelling like sweaty kids}.  The pillows were once puffy, but have been flattened over time as they're squished and folded and manipulated in origami-esque ways to accommodate whatever baby needs nursed, sick child needs cuddled, DVR-ed show needs watched, or sibling needs walloped into next Tuesday.  The beds in our house are a source of comfort and rest, a space for laundry folding, a place to jump and giggle with your sibling until mom puts a halt to your source of fun.  Our beds are where we read and where we pray.  Where we begin and end each day, where we rest our weary heads. 

The kids' beds aren't made on a daily basis, and when they are, it's because my selective OCD has kicked in, sending me on a rampage of cleaning and tossing and tsking over the lack of organization and care they show their toys and personal space.  Even then, when I make their beds, I find myself doing my very best to smooth and re-tuck and adjust and fluff, but usually wind up pulling up their comforters to a state of 'good enough' because I simply lack the energy to do the work of starting from bare-mattress-scratch each morning, as their topsy-turvy method of sleeping would require of me.

When I make our bed each day, it's because I have an inherent *need* to have that space neat and square and fluffed and smoothed.  Knowing the bed stands unmade in my pocket of the house I rely upon for rest and rejuvenation feels like having a tag in the back of my shirt that continually irks me throughout the day as I move through the tasks of life.  Over the course of our marriage, I've become more lenient in my desires for a Good Housekeeping-worthy bed in exchange for something both Randy and I can agree upon.  Soft cotton sheets that are never tucked in, a neat and for-the-most-part even comforter {he despises duvets despite my deep-rooted desire for one}, a reasonable amount of pillows that have the possibility of remaining puffy {so long as the kids stay off them}, and a deliciously inviting cashmere throw blanket {hanging neatly in the closet}.  Despite my wishes for something a bit different, I'd become content and happy with it and began accept the slight catawampus way in which the sheets lay beneath the smoothed top cover as my new 'normal'.  

Because really.  Isn't that what life is?  What seems to be the only acceptable way to live it?  We spend time and money and energy with the smoothing and the tucking and the fluffing and the squaring so that our own cover masks the tangled mess we are beneath the surface.  The twisted mess of nerves or worry.  The shattered splinters of brokenness.  The stain of shame and self-loathing.  The pangs of guilt or shreds of insecurity that weave themselves into a knotted mess that seems impossible to disentangle.

These quirks, these truths we spend so much time covering and fluffing and smoothing are what makes us who we are.  The wrinkled sheets beneath a perfectly smooth duvet {or comforter...whichever suits your fancy} are the reminder of a restful night's sleep.  The flattened, misshapen pillow holds the memories of dozens of late night conversations, movies watched together, or snuggle sessions with a sad little squishy baby.  The comforter in lieu of a puffy duvet and the lack of a perfectly minky soft throw blanket adorning the edge of the bed {which, let's be honest, would really be meant specifically for aesthetic appeal, rather than practical use} keeps you humble.  It reminds you that your blessings are already abundant, that your worth and beauty are not defined by what you possess but rather who you are.  {Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and wearing of gold jewelry or find clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.  1 Peter 3:3-4}

The hard part of peeling back the covers, exposing your wrinkled sheets or lumpy pillows, showing your tears and fears and worries, and revealing your shame and inner sufferings is that you've got to invite vulnerability to the party.  You've got to expose your weaknesses while simultaneously wearing a shield of protection against scrutiny and judgement and disapproval.  You've got to get up the gusto to say to the world, "Here I am, world!  It's me.  This beautiful, tangled, lumpy, ordinary mess.  It's me.  A work in progress.  An unmade bed with un-tucked sheets.  I'm worn and have milk stains from babies and ink stains from toddlers and dents in the foot board from kids driving toy trucks into me.  It's me."

The sad truth is there will always be someone who passes judgement.  Gives an opinion.  Offers a thought for how you can better tackle the stains and the dings and the dents and the wrinkles.  And you can go ahead and take that in; let their negativity and arrogant-laced sentiments affect you.  You can wither and wrinkle and twist into deeper and darker spaces of shame, closing in upon yourself and becoming a shell of who you are meant to be.  

Or, you can take a leap.  Break free from the chains.  Stand tall and proud and shout from the hills, "It's me!".  

My "it's me" moment came in the fall of this past year.  The leap of faith I took in sharing my battle with depression and anxiety was nerve-wracking for me, but has become an eye-opening experience.  I've been blessed to become friends with some wonderful people with whom I've found solace and comfort in sharing stories.  I've deepened some relationships while recognizing the season of others has since passed.  People with whom I reside in the 'acquaintance/Facebook friend status' have reached out to me, and through those kind words have strengthened the connection using threads coated in compassion, empathy, and mutual admiration for the daily battles which we face.  

In order to move forward and fully embrace my "it's me", I had to forfeit my mask of shame and cast aside my shield of vulnerability in a quasi-public forum {yeah, it's the internet.  Anyone and everyone can see it.  But honestly, I pretty much never hear from readers with the exception of a few, so either I've got an awesome but little posse, or an awesome but primarily rogue posse.  Either way, it's all good.  I'm not in it for the money [ha!]}.  I'm sure there are people who place judgement.  Have opinions.  Share thoughts on why I should not have chosen to go about sharing my dings and dents and wrinkles in such a way.  And that's fine.  They're entitled, and they also have the choice to read or not read my words.

But for me, I need words.  I crave them and seek them to cover my wrinkled sheets, but I also use them to help show my wrinkled sheets.  My neat and square and fluffed and smoothed life is about as real as the possibility of having my dream Southern Living/Good Housekeeping/Martha Stewart-approved bed.  

Now, when I see a neatly made bed, I now look past the perfect hospital corners and puffy pillows and minky throw.  I seek out the wrinkled sheets.  The askew bedding and dents and stains and lumpy stuff that shows a beautiful life.  A life of messes and haphazardness and sleepless nights and pain and tears and discontentment.  

I love the stories that are intertwined with these truths.  Not because I love when human kind struggles, but it's because of that struggle that human kind can thrive.  We can support and reach out and connect with one another.  When we are humbled by the sheer humanity of human kind, we even out the levels; we relieve ourselves from the negativity of judgement and opinions, and begin to recognize that everyone, no matter who, no matter where, no matter how...everyone is in need of a comfortable place where things are *just so* and they feel at ease enough to share and be seen and be heard and be real.  They need a place where they can pull back the covers, let the world see the disarray beneath the square and smoothed duvet, and be fearless enough to snuggle in and work in the space that gives them peace.