Joyful Women! Thanks for Being You.

This one’s gonna be quick. Because my belly is rumbling, and I need to wake up my slumbering husband and pup-dog, and I have a lot to do in this gorgeously chilly day ahead of me. Let’s cut to the light.

For a while now, I’ve been admiring the joyful people. You know, those ones who despite difficult circumstances seem to always be shining with lights and rainbows and mysteriously non-trite expressions. Those seemingly well-put-together and fabulously optimistic, wise personas who plague your existence with their fervor and light-heartedness? Yeah, I’m probably talking about you. Or Caroline. Or Rachel. Or Gina. Or Jenna. or Erin. Or Caitlyn. Or Ayschia. Or… you get the drift.

I have so many positively fantastic upbeat, joyful women in my life who put my complaining and moaning and “woe is me” attitude at times to shame. And they do it unknowingly with a smile and skip in their step, as they frolic through forests of lavender and juniper and sunshine. They seem to exude thankfulness, kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, gentleness, encouragement, laughter, tears.

Wait. Errrrrrr [hear screeching of tires]. Scratch. There it is. Tears.

These women… fantastic, amazing, gifted, inspirational, God-fearing women are also experienced with tears. Those who I so admire and enjoy have been through trials, deep ones. They know pain – anxiety, anger, betrayal, sickness, isolation, grief. They’ve known sorrow. And, their joy, I’m increasingly realizing, comes not in fields of ease but is born out of trenches of struggle, the mire, the muck, the heart-wrenching fear, the depth of understanding, the resurrection of hope, the restoration of the redeemed, the knowledge that for those who hope in the Lord, goodness always triumphs over evil. That for every tear, there is dancing in the future. For every fear, there is peace washed over. For every hurt, there is manifold good, offered and promised and held for the right timing. There is peace. And with knowledge and peace comes contentment. Joy. Light and fervor and beauty.

There is pain, but there is hope.

So, I’m going to read Job.

And Psalms.

And if my future posts have some darkness, some lamenting, some “woe is me” mentality, give me some grace, and don’t worry too much about how I’m doing, because I’m going to read through the story of a man who was tested and scourged and stripped of everything but his Lord, and how he came out the other side with joy and favor. Plus some Psalms expressing emotion all over the board [my personal speciality]. Let’s just feel all of those feelings.

And hopefully, prayerfully, I’ll learn more about joy and light and beauty. Because that is the character of the God I serve, and He binds his people to himself with covenant promises of which I cannot ignore. He always restores his people.

And he gives me ridiculously beautiful women of joy as signposts to remind me of those promises: that he is good, always, and he will turn our mourning into dancing.

So, joyful women: thanks for being you.

And here’s too many (though somehow not enough) photos of some said women (and just as redemptive, men).

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On the Pain of Growing Up and Glimpsing the Story in Your Struggle

There are moments in life when the proverbial crap hits the fan, when all the world seems out of control, and if you could just pause your life for an instant, slow it down, and watch from the outside, you might actually laugh… at least to keep from crying.

I picture an old college apartment, you know, that dirty “boy” (or girl) who seemed to never clean and just live in the filth. You step into their place with a rather clear mind of perspective and see the chaos swirling, junk splayed out before you in the form of a drab, crowded room: dirty dishes and uncleaned mountains of laundry amidst stacks of files and work that somehow must be done. Brown, stained carpet (didn’t it used to be a lighter shade?). Overturned tray tables. Sad furniture, grey and bleak filing cabinets, cheap shelves sagging in the corners of the room, the oppressive weight of unread papers and unchecked to-do lists, all that was meant to be completed. Such good intentions; disaster in motion. You have a remote in your hand as if in a dream, so you step back a moment and reduce the scene’s speed from real-time to a type of distant slow motion: white paper swirling majestically, floating like so many torn leaves, the fan turning in a dull, fluid whir, caked dust drifting from the tips of the fan blades. You lift the remote gently and punch a button, reducing the room from a pause to a stop. Bewildered, you freeze, furrow your brows, turn on your heel, and walk hastily from the room. You can’t bear to look it this mess any longer.

When was that last moment for you? That day, week, month, year? What was a turning point in your life? When did you have to open your eyes a little (or perhaps very much) when an experience forever changed you? And, when did you find the clarity to look back at that room, that chaos in your life, and see it for what it was – a chasm in your heart and an awful wide-eyed glimpse at your reality?

I posed these questions to my students in response to a short story that we read about losing a piece of our innocence and in turn gaining compassion. This was in October.

Soon after, at the advent of second quarter, we began reading To Kill a Mockingbird and the theme continued: Scout’s childlike, playful demeanor slowly chipped away into a hard look at the world and the evil therein. The stories kept connecting.

Two days ago, a mother and beloved fellow teacher shared a sliver of her own story in a safe space. She explained that recently, there was a day when she was home with her sons, and something terrible had happened. It was something challenging to process and something that could not change. It was out of their control, she and her husband’s. It affected their family in a deep way. And though they had protected and shielded their children from birth, helping each child carefully and age-appropriately deal with the world in a brave way when the time was right…on this day, they couldn’t do much. On this day, she watched her eldest son grow up, and in ways difficult to explain, it broke her heart. Because in certain ways, it had shattered his too.

Within the last few weeks, people I deeply love have shared stories with me on the phone, on restaurant benches, in my classroom, on my couch, and in face-to-face moments of unflinching truth. Words and tears have spilled forth. Prayers have been prayed. Hearts have been splayed out. The aching realization that “I’ve grown up a lot this year,” has been spoken. And for a while, for these last few weeks, I felt deeply. I over-felt. I was at a loss. I couldn’t get a grip. I was stuck in the pain and the horror of it all, of these people who I loved so fiercely and felt connected to who were hurting. It was a type of vicarious bleeding, a slow overdrawn pull that eventually left me dizzy and disoriented. It was glimpsing that torrid room and not having the remote to stop it. Instead, I spun out. Last Saturday was the worst.

But a few days this week have allowed me perspective and a “stepping back.” I’ve been able to slow down my mind and press pause on my remote. I’ve let the days drift past me and just been “in” them but not affected too deeply by them. I’ve been able to see clearly some of the chaos and the ensuing pain. Some of the brokenness. And, I’ve discovered that whether it is criticism or cancer, anxiety or exhaustion, loneliness or longing, there is some relief to be had, some hope to be gained, some truth to be held.

In a separate post (perhaps a part two), I will share some poetry from my students from that October prompt, some eloquent words of wisdom (with their names and stories protected, of course). For now, though, I’m thinking of a different story – the novel in which we just read the final page. Because, sometimes, we really need to bypass our present and fast forward to an ending we know so that we can hang on to what’s in store for our future. And here’s an ending that I know.

By the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout has lost much of her innocence. That can’t change. It still feels awful.

She has wrestled through a difficult trial (literally), attempting to grapple with the idea that a man, though having seemingly done nothing wrong, would have to suffer so much for the sins of others. She has seen ugly parts of the world filled with pain and violence and loss, and yet she also has seen beauty in which shadows stepped out of the darkness to reveal truth behind them, and heroism and protection emerges where she least expects it. The world still feels confusing. She still is filled with questions. The understanding is incomplete and too lofty for her to reach. The pain is still real, and it won’t be rationalized away or sugar-coated. It would be unfair and perhaps even cruel to try to paint it any differently than what it is. It must be dealt with. But perhaps, she can take a break from it.

So, her father reads her a story.

The final scene that we read is a tender one. Scout is in her father’s arms, nestled up, warm and safe. Despite all of the wonderings still on her mind, he quiets her with love. No matter what she has gone through, she or her loved ones have endured to this point. No matter what was broken, it will mend some. No matter how much was lost, more might still be gained. We end on hope. She is still a child, held tightly in the arms of another, and her father will be there with her and with her brother, Jem, when they wake up. Tomorrow will be a new day. And I find great hope in that ending.

Though, some people hate it. Some people want to know the end of the story. What happened to Boo? To Dill? To Jem? How does Scout grow up? What is the final page of the final book of a larger series? Shouldn’t there be a sequel? Why can’t I know what happens, now?

At times, I feel like that too. But, for now, I’m content with that ending. Because when a chapter or a book ends in uncertainty, there’s a real moment of ownership and opportunity that can be bred out of it. There is a sense in which we decide the ending. We decide the fate. We have the choice, as Rafiki shares in Lion King, “to either run from it… or learn from it.” And, that wild, blue-butted baboon is right when he smacks Simba over the head with his wisdom stick and helps Simba realize that it’s not true that “it doesn’t matter” because “it’s in the past” and “yes, the past can hurt…” but what we get to do is pull ourselves out of the past and into the present with a hopeful glimpse into the future. We get to turn what was an awful wide-eyed glimpse into our circumstances into an awe-filled, “awe-ful” (if you will) picture of our reality. That hurt sucks. That growing up is hard. That to peer unflinchingly into the truth of a situation is more than we can bear at times. We’re at a loss for words or feelings or actions to surmount that. But, we do get to decide our future. We do get to keep fighting the battle, one day at a time, and we can emerge as conquerors on the other side of it. That is possible.

So, what was it, your last moment when you felt you hit a turning point? When did you know that you had to grow up and that you had lost some of your innocence? And what will you do about it? That is really the question at this point. What is your choice?

For, in a real, true, empowering way, the rest of the story is quite literally up to you.

You get to decide. Where will you go from here?

And, please, let me know, if you choose.

Hannah, you’re the queen…

I believe in the power of words, of names.

Lately, in my class, we have been looking into name meanings – What does your name mean, and what does it mean in your life? How is God redeeming you through your calling?

I have been called and given many names in my life, as have you, I’m sure. My family is particularly fond of nicknames, so I have many. Allow me to expand…

Laur, from my brother

Loo-lum-lore-lee-la, peanut – my dad

Lolly, Lollygirl, Lollybird / Little Lollybird, Mosquito, Marie, Lamb Chop –> Chop –> Choop –> Chooper

The names go on and on.

And then there was Hannah.

When I met Brian’s family, I also met a beautiful little one with long, dark “shag dog” hair, as the boys called it – they liked it long and sweeping across her face. She met me and swiftly tried to keep me at the house. We bonded instantly. With her small, warm hand, she took mine and at the age of two, called me Hannah.

Her parents would say, “Say Lauren,” and she would say, “Hannah!” “Say, La-la-la-la-Lauren,” and she would respond, “La-la-la-la-Hannah!”

We could not figure it out. And for about three glorious years, she called me Hannah. It was a sad day when this sweet girl learned my “real” name…

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I’ve been thinking about that name Hannah. I’ve written a tiny bit about it before, of how it means favor and grace, and since I was given it by a member of my husband’s family, I realize what favor and grace I was given by joining their family, by combining our families. Believe me, our marriage has brought blessings to both sides of the aisle.

And yet, I don’t think that’s all of it. That’s not the end of her story, or mine.

If you know more about the story of Hannah, don’t spoil it for me. God is revealing that to me in his timing, how that name fits me and how it seemingly doesn’t. However, God is sovereign, and out of the mouth of babes… God speaks clearly as well.

I am so thankful for what he says about me in His word and in His names for me. I look at my nicknames from family and see favor and grace, love abounding, care and sweetness. I see familiarity and a future.

Today, I was sitting alone in my classroom grading papers. I felt weary, and I said, “God, would you keep speaking to me? Would you show me your grace and help me as I work?” I turned on an internet radio station, and one of the first songs that played was this one, called “Hannah” by Ray Lamontagne. I won’t explain every lyric and how it fits so perfectly with me, this song about falling in love and being captivated by beauty (Thank you God – and Brian – for loving me so well!), but I will give a few sneak peeks…

For example, how I sobbed this morning and “cried so loud” when God comforted me in my quiet time and prayer,

how I would put down my idols and my comforts if He would just be kind to me, and He is,

how I’m celebrating my emptiness as God fills me up,

how I came down from those Ozark Hills where I used to go to Sixth Grade Camp,

and instead,

I am roaming the streets of Westminster, with music and a Bible,

and praising God for his goodness and flourishing,

the right fit for now,

how my name is Lauren, “crowned with the Laurel,”

flowered dresses that I use to clear the way.

God lets me climb big trees as Hannah Lee.

God is so good. So good. Tonight, I am thankful and full.

My cup overflows, again and again and again.

“Come to me, Hannah. Hannah, won’t you come on to me?”

Yes, God, yes, God, yes…

Every day,

I will fall down at your feet,

For oh, God, you are the King of this street.

I lost all of my vanity
When I peered into the pool
I lost all of my innocence
When I fell in love with you

I never knew a man fall so far
Until’ I landed here
Where all of my wounds that turn into gold
When I kissed your hair

Come to me Hannah
Hannah won’t you to come on to me?
And I’ll lay down this bottle of wine
If you’ll just be kind to me

Ask her why she cries so loud?
She will not say a word
Eyes like ice and hands that shake
She takes what she deserves

To celebrate her emptiness
In a cold and lonely room
Sweep the floor with your long flowered dress
If you cannot find a broom

Come to me Hannah
Hannah won’t you come on to me?
And I’ll lay down this bottle of wine
If you’ll just be kind to me

She’s got hair that flows right down
Right down to the backs of her knees
Her papa he was a preachin’ man
And the Lord is hard to please

So she comes down from the Ozark hills
To these very streets to roam
With a banjo and a Bible
And a fine tooth comb

Come to me Hannah
Hannah won’t you come on to me?
And I’ll lay down this bottle of wine
If you’ll just be kind to me

I’d walk one mile on just broken glass
To fall down at your feet
Oh Hannah you’re the queen of the street

I climb the tree with my Hannah Lee
My intentions they were pure
Oh the breeze did whip and I lost my grip
I tumbled towards the earth

Where you never would guess who it was that stood below
His name I would never tell
But his eyes were clear and his arms were strong
And caught me as I fell

Now come to me Hannah
Hannah won’t you come on to me?
And I’ll lay down this bottle of wine
If you’d just be kind to me

I’d walk one mile on just broken glass
To fall down at your feet
Hannah you’re the queen of the street

Read more: Ray LaMontagne – Hannah Lyrics | MetroLyrics

There’s a Hole in my Soul, I Can Feel It, I Can Feel It…

Oh, the tangled webs we weave.

Bastille in their song “Flaws” sings, “You always wore your flaws along your sleeves. And I buried them deep beneath the ground. Dig them out. Let’s finish what we started. Dig them out, let nothing be undone.” I played this song for my students yesterday and we talked about flaws, about vulnerability and being gentle with ourselves and others. It’s fitting that my own devotion would apply to me this morning, and perhaps to you. Do you wear your flaws or your sleeve? Or do you bury them deep? Are you weary this morning? Or are you relying on the Lord’s strength? Your own? Perhaps you’re like me and you think you’re good to go, but you just haven’t crashed and burned yet. I’m trying to coast to a stop more easily than I used to, to settle into a slow jog, a trot, then a walk, rather than having an epic crash with skinned knees, concussions, and other various hazardous injuries that occur when you just. won’t. stop. Because that’s me. I just won’t stop, much of the time.

That persistent voice keeps telling me to slow down, you know… that “pesky” ever-so-wise Holy Spirit. He keeps saying, “Be gentle with yourself.” He keeps saying, “Rely on me, not yourself.” He keeps saying, “Whoa girl… you know you can’t run on your own steam forever. Or even for a second… You have to come refill. You have to come to me. To the Lord. Only my Word has life.”

And yet, I often don’t listen. Often it’s the last thing that I do. I’m getting better at it, but boy, am I a stubborn, hard-headed one, and I know I’m not alone. We’re a hard-headed people… often a hard-hearted people.

There’s a hole in my soul. Can you feel it? Can you feel it? There’s nothing else that can fill that hole in my soul other than the Lord. Only the Lord. Only Christ. And yet, I try to fill it or ignore with so many other things, mainly myself, my work, my efforts, my, my, MY. So selfish am I in my pursuits to care for others or to do my job. The devil is a sneaky one, prowling like a lion, clever like a snake. But I will crush his head. I will turn his plans to ashes. I will cry out to the Lord, and I will tell Satan to flee, and he will flee from me. For what Satan plans for evil, what we do to ourselves is turned to evil, but God works it for good. ALWAYS. (Genesis 50:20)

So let’s wear our flaws on our sleeves. Let’s finish what we started. Let’s let nothing be undone.

Lord, Finish this work that you started. Forgive me for trying to do it all on my own. Thank you for making me learn this lesson over and over and over again so that I have to keep coming back to you, so that my efforts are in vain, and you are glorified. Thank you that you are strong and powerful and the source of my strength. Strengthen my weak knees, lift my weary hands to you, and make straight paths for my feet, Lord, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Heal me, Father. Amen.

(Hebrews 12: 12-13)

Ripping out the Roots

On Wednesday, I came home from school and was, as of late, met by a barraging overflow of zucchini leaves, spilling over the vegetable garden into my path. All I wanted was to move forward and set down my things in the house, but instead, I lifted leaves and pushed back the vegetation in order to put my bags down on the back deck and let Brooklyn out of the house.

I came back. It had been weeks… months? These leaves, an offset of a different problem, had begun to intrude into my space a while ago and now were covered in a type of powdered mildew, nevermind the host of squash bugs boring into and infesting their roots. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I began cutting. and snipping, and snapping, and ripping. It took me about thirty minutes to realize that I was still in my dress clothes, but at this point, who cared? It was swelteringly hot, and my long sleeves and pants didn’t deter me. This needed to get done. And after I cut out all of the disease, about 2/3 of the massive plant, I could finally see some fruit, several zucchini to harvest, and also the tangled mess that had been slowly poisoning the plant from the roots up. There was no salvaging that part, but it was thriving the best it could anyhow, even if its offerings on the outside looked bleak, its spiky leaf tips pointed toward the sky like a vessel. “Fill me; help.”

Then there was the kale. From afar, it looked fine, but then at ten feet, I saw the stripped leaves, the ribbed ruffage full of munched holes. And at a few inches, upon inspection, I observed the problem too. A caterpillar. No, many of them. No, hundreds, thousands? Their eggs and their little striped bodies, just a half-inch long, had found a village, a sprawling food-filled metropolis, and they were happy. I… was not. And after assessing the damage, I decided that having no kale was better than the shred of what had been left behind by this ravaging. I’d rather rip them up from the roots and start over. I could plant again, put down new roots, but the kale would not survive in this state, and the risk of spreading it to the rest of my garden did not make me pleased. I went to work.

The funny thing is, as always, it struck me, during this ripping of the roots, that this is yet another of my gardening life metaphors. I also went to work on something different recently, or more accurately, I went to work, at WCA. And my departure from my old, beloved school felt somewhat like these plants… I hadn’t been thriving anymore. Somehow, and I don’t know how the descent happened (like the plants, I didn’t see its origins), I had been slowly being eaten at, had been trying to thrive and yet offering less-than to my kids. There was still good there, still fruit growing, but it was harder to see, and I was under so much stress and confusion about what was happening that I couldn’t come out from it. I wanted so badly to stay where I was and be what I had been, but it was time to be transplanted, to be ripped out of the place where I had put down roots so someone else could put theirs down and do beautiful work.

My friends have been asking me lately, very thoughtfully, how I like school, my new job, and I can say unreservedly that I love it. I LOVE it. It is renewing and full of life and vigor and glory. I am happy… what a novel sentence. Fleeting as it usually seems to be, I am happy. And I hope that the feeling stays. But more than anything, I am thankful. I am thankful for what I now realize was the perfect amount of time in my first “garden plot”… I didn’t understand then why I was still there. If I’m in so much pain, if I’m struggling so much, why would God still have me here? But, now, hindsight 20/20, I see. He built into my character. I was still creating fruit, even if less than usual. I was still stretching out my hands, rugged and stained though they were, trying to find answers. And God taught me some amazing things. The confusion, the anxiety fog, the relationships that I had, the way that I grew in the last few years in my understanding of social justice, the teammates I had… everything was for my good, for my growth. I see now that the teacher I am is informed by much of that. The joy that I have now is in light of that. I know that I am where I am supposed to be, and I know now that I was then too. And at the proper time (though it seemed late to me), God brought change. He ripped me out, roots and all, and I started over. I am so thankful…

What an incredible school I came from, what incredible people… but other people were still thriving there while I was not. It was time. And at the perfect minute, I came into a job with the right kids, the right parents, the right curriculum, the right room, the right school, the right colleagues, the right passion and joy. I am thrilled. Genuinely… my cup overflows.

This is what I wish for my students, for my friends… that this tiny glimpse I have now of God’s plan and his story would be something you could see too, that the current struggle you are in would reap strength and depth of understanding later as you look back on this time, that you will be filled to overflowing with future joy, and that you would do as God encouraged me to do last September… almost a year ago today… “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2 … and see what he has planned for you. Then, get to work.

Amen.