Sunday, April 21, 2013

Open Hands

Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord's and everything in it

Right after the loss of our baby, and at the suggestion of several friends who had walked this road before me, I attended a support group for women dealing with infertility, miscarriage, and infant loss.  There are dozens of these kinds of groups in the Dallas area, but this one was connected to a really great church in our area and I needed something Christ-focused.  I went in February, and I cried my way through my story, feeling almost instantly comfortable in this group of women because we all were in the same place.  We all knew the pain of either waiting for a child or losing a child, some of us knew both.   I think both are equally devastating.

At the end of the evening, I was given a small gift box.  It was a memorial box filled with small things, commemorating the little life that we lost.  There was a tiny handmade blanket, pinned with two tiny little metal footprints.  There was tea and a candle and a book on losing a child.  I cried as the leader presented it to me at the end of the evening.  I cried most of the way home that night.

I skipped the March meeting, but I went back this week.  And again, we took turns sharing our stories and where we are in the process of grieving.  There were a few new people, and honestly, their stories seemed far more tragic than mine.  Losing a child you didn't know is difficult and still devastating.  Losing a child you have held and loved and rocked and nursed just seems so incredibly unfair.  It feels like it would be harder.  But as these women talked, I noticed a theme in their conversation, and I was kind of surprised.  They talked about approaching life with open hands.  About knowing that everything they have, including their children, is God's and that in the end, He is free to give and take as He pleases.  

As I listened, every rebellious part of my brain stood at attention, ready to argue and fight.  Because the baby I lost was mine.  He was my first.  He felt like mine.  And I never even got to hold him.  Except the more listened, the more it sunk in that he was never really mine, just my privilege to carry for eleven short weeks (nine weeks, if we get technical about the way pregnancy really works).  And these women who had already let go in their hearts were so peaceful.  They were so very confident in the God that had allowed such huge losses.  

Over the past few days God has used their words to really speak to me.  I can go back in my memory to so many different moments in my past where I clung so tightly to things that were never mine to keep.  The lesson found in losing them was painful.  The struggle to try to keep them was exhausting, and in the end, the result was the same.  I always lost.  You will do that when you fight with an Almighty God.  I always ended the battle tired and broken.   

So today, I am sitting in my little living room in my favorite yellow chair and I am determined.  Resolute.  My mind is made up (and will probably have to be made up a thousand more times because I am stubborn and selfish like that).  I want to live life open handed.  I want to be not only a giver of good things, because the things I have are not mine anyway, but I want to live in a way that leaves every one of my dreams and aspirations and my "things" up for grabs.  I want God to be able to take them away and replace them with new dreams and new plans.  I want to be able to live through the giving and the taking and still raise my open hands to say "Blessed be the name of the Lord".

My dreams for a family.  They are Yours, Lord.  My ideas for how my life should go.  Yours.  All of my expectations and things I think I deserve.  Take those and fix them.  Replace them with Your will.  My money.  Completely yours.  My ministry.  Also yours.  My home and the things I fill it with.  All yours.  This earthly body that I have been given.  It's yours, too.  My life in it's entirety.  Just yours.  Take it all.  Here I am... Open Hands.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Shake it Like Sally

Sally and her dance partner (the singer is Derek St. Holmes, original lead singer for the Ted Nugent Band)

While I was in Tennessee, Jake and I had lunch with Karen and her husband Frank.  Karen is my mother's best friend and is the kind of person that everyone likes.  She genuinely loves people, and they love her back.  She and my mother are perfect friends.  They love tea rooms and books and quilting and antique malls and Jesus.  They are very similar.

But during our lunch, Karen was talking about finding new ways to be active, to keep up with her recent weight loss, and she told me something that shocked me.  It rattled everything I thought I knew about her.  Karen, the woman who is a second mother to me, has taken up line dancing.  Line dancing.  Her friend invited her to go, and she said yes.  And she loves it.  I told my mother this when I returned from my trip, and her jaw dropped.

Karen?  My Karen?


She was surprised, too.  I tried to picture Karen out there on the dance floor at her local community center, and even though it was nothing I would have expected, I was really proud of her.  To let go of insecurity and fear and just get out there and dance?  I loved it.

The next night, Jake and I found ourselves in Franklin, Tennessee.  Jake and I had made the agreement that we would visit no chain restaurants or coffee shops while on vacation.  So we considered eating dinner at Dotson's, a run-down meat and three that serves awesome fried chicken and great pies.  But I had been there plenty of times before, and I wanted something new.  So we searched online and found Puckett's Grocery in Leiper's Fork.  It was Open Mic night, and it seemed like the perfect place to spend our last night in Tennessee.  I have been to a dozens of Open Mic nights.  This was unlike any Open Mic I had ever seen.

First of all, it felt like it was in the middle of nowhere.  Leiper's Fork is off the beaten path.  Second, Puckett's Grocery was packed.  There were people lingering oustide, smoking cigarettes in the cold, misty air, standing beside the old gas pumps that may or may not have been original.  It was instantly intimidating, so we chose to forego dinner at Puckett's in favor of the Country Boy restaurant across the street.  We had dinner, a brief argument (all good couples do), and then headed back across the street to listen to some music.

There was not a free seat in the room, and it was dark, so Jake and I made our way through the crowd of people towards the back, which was the grocery store part of the building.  We stood between grocery aisles stacked with dusty pyramids of canned tomatoes and bags of hushpuppy mix, and we listened to the music.  Every now and then I would notice an older woman stand and dance around a little, completely unaware that the rest of the room was not dancing.  The longer the music played, the more she danced, waving her arms in the air and shaking her hips without a thought.   She was wearing a yellow polyester shirt and black pants that I am certain (maybe just hopeful) had an elastic waist.  She finished off the ensemble with a pair of athletic shoes.  She was awesome.

The highlight of the evening was when they called her up to sing.  I learned that her name was Sally Cummings.  She stood proudly and sang out "Help Me Make it Through the Night".  She was not the most polished singer of the night, but she was certainly the most confident.  And I knew I had to meet her.  So after her song was over, I walked over to her table, and I told her honestly that I admired her spirit.  She danced when she wanted to.  She sang when she wanted to.  She clapped wildly and yelled when she liked a song.  The rest of us and our opinions didn't really matter.  Sally was having a great time, and she didn't care who saw.

The few minutes I spent in conversation with her were fascinating.  I learned that Sally's brother Pete (who was also there that night) had toured with Elvis and Willie and the Oak Ridge Boys.  She told me that she learned long ago not to worry about what people thought about her, and she genuinely seemed appreciative of the conversation.  I asked if I could take a picture with her, and she sweetly consented.  The rest of the night was filled with great songs, fantastically talented musicians, and sweet Sally shaking it on the dance floor that they made by clearing out some of the front tables towards the end of the evening.  And on a particularly slow song, I felt inspired, and Jake and I followed suit and headed out to do the "I don't really know how to dance but I can stand here and shuffle my feet" dance.  It's the only kind of dancing that most Baptist preacher's kids know.

I have grown a lot in this area, but there are lots of things that scare me.  Things that I don't do because I fear what people will think.  What if I mess up?  What if I fail?  What if I look like an idiot?  But I am thankful for little examples.  For stories like Karen's and Sally's.  For reminders that the opinions and stares of other people don't matter.  So whatever it is you are fearing, just do that thing.  The thing that scares you to death.  Go ahead.  Get out there and do it.  Live.  Dance.  Run.  Sing. Whatever.  Shake it like Sally.

Sally singing "Help Me Make it Through the Night"

Sally and Me

Me and Pete Cummings (you can read up on him here)


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