Out Here, on the Brink — SheLoves, September 2018, “Edge”

It’s lonelier than I imagined, this aging thing. I remember being impatient with my dad when we pushed my parents to move from their much-loved last home, built 15 years earlier, into a retirement community a little bit closer to us. He was suffering from Parkinson’s and atherosclerosis and my mom was wearing herself out as primary care giver. We thought the move would provide extra help for her, a bit of respite care. At that point in time they were 85 and 81. As I tried to help my mom get herself organized for the move, Daddy slipped into a quiet much deeper than his usual taciturnity, muttering, “Those places are where you go to die.” I tried to reassure him they were places you go to live before you die. He was having none of it.

I get it now. I’m still a decade behind where they were then, but I can smell the 80s coming at me and I’m not a big fan of that scent, to be completely honest. This is not a culture that values elders, generally preferring those past 75 or 80 to stay out of the spotlight and keep quiet. Part of me is keenly aware of the reasons for that truth: I discover, on an almost daily basis, that the inevitable effects of time and life are sometimes painful and humiliating and not particularly fun to watch. And I get that, too. But still . . . it feels lonely from time to time, out here on the doorstep of eternity.

Don’t get me wrong — there are definite benefits to being ‘retired.’ Opportunities to travel, to read more, to binge on Netflix as needed, and to serve in capacities suited to advancing years and garnered wisdom — these are gifts of this season. But let’s face it, I am on the edge — the edge of the end — and everybody knows it. Maybe I’ll live past my 100th birthday like my maternal grandmother. Maybe I’ll be gone next month. Who knows? And which is preferable? That, too, is open to debate!

In the meantime, I am trying to practice saying ‘yes’ to whatever life remains to me. My father’s choices shut him off from us. Part of that was disease driven, but part of it was his lifelong pattern of choosing isolation when things got difficult. I don’t want to do that. I’d like to dance myself off the cliff, if at all possible, so I’m trying to figure out what that might look like in this aging body, with this aging brain.

 

Please join the conversation (and the conclusion of this reflection!) over at SheLoves by clicking here. 

Redefining Terms — For SheLoves, May, 2018

Anyone who has read my work for any length of time will know that the content of this month’s essay at SheLoves has appeared, in slightly different form, here and in an ebook I put together about five years ago. It’s a BIG topic for me, essential to my spiritual and emotional health and sanity and I’m happy to have another venue in which to speak it true. I believe this to be one of the most important truths of our faith, one that can help us navigate any misguided theological input from our past. I’d love it if you would click over and join in the conversation at SheLoves.

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When I was a little girl, faithfully attending Sunday school each week, we had a little saying that went like this: “Jesus, Others and You – that’s how you spell JOY.” And I inhaled that sentiment like it was the sweetest of perfumes. YES! We should always be last on the list, giving ourselves away to Jesus and to other people. That’s how you live like Jesus, right? That’s how you are a good girl, a truly good girl.

As I got older, that simple phrase became a little more complicated, and the scent of it a little more cloying. This time, it went something like this: “He must increase, I must decrease,” lifting the words directly out of the mouth of John the Baptist near the end of chapter 3 in John’s gospel. From there, it morphed into, “More of Jesus, less of me,” and the older I got, the more terrified I became when I heard those words.

I didn’t recognize it as terror initially. In fact, I didn’t know how deeply this message had affected me until I began to be interested in spiritual direction. I first learned about direction by reading a series of novels, of all things. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, British author Susan Howatch wrote a great bunch of stories about priests in the Anglican church and I devoured those books when I was in my 40’s. They were earthy, to be sure, but they were also rich and filled with beautiful tidbits of theology and ecclesiology. Throughout the entire series, some of my favorite characters were spiritual directors.

So I began to look for a director, and the first woman I interviewed handed me the beautiful Prayer of Abandonment by Charles de Foucauld. It’s a beautiful prayer, filled with love, joyful submission, and trust. But I could not pray that prayer.

I tried, but I’d get to the word ‘abandon,’ and start gulping great gasps of air. I prayed about it, I talked it over with the woman who had given it to me, and her immediate response to me was this: “Diana, you need therapy. Not direction.” (Did I mention I was in seminary at the time and beginning to hear God’s call to professional ministry? What??? Pastors might need therapy? Well, that’s a great big YES.)

I spent the next twenty years trying to unpack what happened inside me as I read that prayer and, in the process, I have taken a long look at that old Sunday school saying and the use (or mis-use) of that verse from John 3. And I’ve done a TON of personal work on all kinds of important things. . . all because I gagged on the word, “abandon.”

There is lots more to these thoughts — come on over and join us at SheLoves!

4:38 p.m.

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They tell me there was snow on our mountains for about five minutes this morning. I never saw it, but I believe it was there.

I know in my head that my mother has been gone for exactly one year today, but my heart does not yet fully comprehend this truth.. It seems I am able to believe in the snow without ever seeing it, but unable to wrap my head around tangible things right in front of my face, like a clock or a calendar. 

Even though it is the way of things, even though death comes to every one of us at some point along the journey, even though my mother’s death was, in many ways, the very best way for death to happen, this losing a much-loved mother is hard and it is painful. At times, it still feels strange, unnatural and weirdly disorienting. Tears spring at the oddest times. Some small piece of decor or clothing will catch  my eye and I realize I am smiling sadly, even nodding slightly, as if offering a brief moment of homage to the force of nature who was my mom.

One year today.

We walked her last journey together, she and I, and it was not an easy one. I remember lovely sunlit moments along the way — sitting by the pool at her residential facility, each of us in a large sunhat, drinking in the ocean air, bird sound, and bright blooming vines that surrounded us. I remember laughter, her wonderful, rich laughter. I remember a smile as big as whatever room she was in, welcoming one and all. I remember how beautiful she was, even as age and disease slowly ravaged her.

I also remember deep confusion, the devastation when she no longer knew I was her daughter, her tears of frustration and of fear when she tried to make sense of something that was no longer within the sphere of her cognitive ability. I remember trips to the emergency room, her terror and embarrassment when strapped to a gurney she did not want or need. I remember deep bruises from falls, and the firm conviction that, ‘this is not my room, I’ve never been here before in my life.’ I remember a growing disconnection from things like seasons, days, time itself. 

I also remember her leading my Brownie meetings, teaching my 11th grade Sunday School class, bending over her beautiful stitcheries, and I remember with glee her bawdy sense of humor. I was deeply aware of how thirsty she was to learn, to read, to discuss, to ponder and wonder and observe. I remember how feisty she could be — and how volatile!

I remember how much she worried over me. Oh, my, how she could worry!

Now, at this late stage of my own life, I know all of that was because of her deep love and concern for me, but then? Then, it felt suffocating, limiting, inhibiting. She worried over my height, my weight, the way I walked, the fact that I might be “too smart to ever catch a good man.” She dragged me to multiple dermatology clinics because of my dry and sensitive skin,  she always wanted me to be ‘more social,’ and regularly encouraged me to invite classmates over to hang out. She also wanted me to enjoy athletics, something she was good at and I most definitely was not.

We found our way together, yes, we did. I was her first child — longed for and loved and cherished. As does every first-born, I bore the brunt of her inexperience and the leftover wounds of her own, sometimes chaotic, upbringing. But she was smart, my mom. And she was good. She learned from her mistakes, she apologized easily, she loved deeply and well. We found our way to one another during my adolescence by reading books together and writing each other notes about them. And we laughed. A lot. 

We also shared a deep love of beauty, in all its permutations. Today, on this anniversary, and as my computer clock tells me it is now exactly 4:38 — the moment of her death, one year ago — I want to remember and reflect on that most of all. She was the embodiment of beauty in so many ways — in her face, surely. But even more so, in her spirit. Yes, she could be ugly, too. Aren’t we all? But the beauty of her is what I cling to now.

Gasping at a glorious sunset, tenderly arranging flowers for the dinner table, creating a cake or a sketch, looking for and finding the beauty of others, even eventually encouraging me to reach out past the boundaries she herself had always drawn around me, as a female child. She didn’t fully understand my call to ministry at midlife, but she supported it. She wept when I told her — through my own tears — that I never could have considered going to seminary if my husband didn’t make enough money for its cost to have no impact on any other person in our family. She wept because she knew that wacky belief came directly from her own fears and prejudices, her own false picture of what it means to be female in this world. 

My mother learned. And she kept on learning, right up until dementia moved in to stay. And while she learned, she continued to love us all so very well. I thank God for her every day of my life. And I thank you, my dearest Mom. I miss you more than words can say.

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The Truest Advent

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I sit and watch the light play across the beautiful angles of her face. Even at 95, those cheekbones are breathtaking. She is tired today, battling a mild infection, with little to no appetite and even less energy. The sharp angle of the winter sun is unexpectedly flattering as it gently flickers through the window, and I draw a sharp breath as those too-familiar tears begin to form behind my eyelids. 

“Oh, Mama! I love you so. Please, Lord, let her go to sleep and wake up in the New Creation. Enough, okay? Enough.”

But who really knows how much is enough? I don’t have any special insights, only my own bedraggled emotions and growing fatigue. To me, it feels like it is time. Time to be released from this ‘body of dust,’ time to rest from the struggle, time to breathe in and never breathe out again.

We did not go out to lunch today; we barely made it from the dining room to her own sweet space, with its lounge chair in the corner, by the window. “My arms!” she cried softly as we walked. “They ache.”

Truth be told, everything aches. Every cell in her body.

As she slept in that chair, I moved my hand slightly, the one that she was clasping with both of hers. She roused a bit, turning to look in my direction.

“Oh, Mama! Thank you for being such a good, good mother,” I cried.

She didn’t understand me, so I said it again, more slowly, more loudly. She smiled slightly and said a simple, “Thank you.” Somehow her half-sleepy state made the usual questioning unnecessary. There were no confused looks, no puzzled frowns. None of this response: “I’m your mother?? Really??” 

None today. None at all.

One week ago, that’s all I heard. I came home shaking my head at my husband. “I don’t know how much more of this repetition I can navigate! We spent our entire 90 minutes together today asking and attempting to answer the same 5-6 questions — over and over and over again. Oh, Lord, give me patience!”

He and I were getting ready to leave town the next morning, our annual anniversary getaway to parts north. We both needed it — time and space to savor an ocean view, good food prepared by someone else, and quiet time together — no expectations, no obligations, no schedule. And it was good. Very, very good.

They called me from the dementia unit as we were driving home yesterday. “She has a UTI and a low-grade fever. Is it all right with you if we put her on antibiotics?” 

Yes, it was all right with me. UTIs make dementia much worse and increase confusion and disorientation. She doesn’t need any escalation of those symptoms and neither do I. But this time around, the infection plus the added medication led to extreme exhaustion — one more sign of decline, diminishment. 

And yet, as painful as it is to watch that happen, this time I will admit that my primary response is relief and gratitude. She is heading in one direction only; and today’s exhaustion underlined that truth for me. My mother is very old. She is very frail. She is extraordinarily confused.

She is also beautiful, grateful, loves people (even when she hasn’t a clue who they are), sings the old songs and hymns with a higher degree of accuracy than her illness might lead you to expect, and generally enjoys her life. It is not up to me when that life will end on this side of the mysterious veil that separates us from the eternal.

There are, however, some decisions that are up to me. When and how to treat illness, for one. I think I know what I will and will not allow — mom and I discussed it all, long before dementia took over — but until illness or accident happens, I suppose it’s all pretty hypothetical.

So, in addition to those prayers for patience, I also pray for wisdom, grace, kindness and insight as my mother moves ever closer to the end of her long and remarkable life. I will miss her presence in my life more than I can adequately put into words, more than language will allow.

 

Then again, I have been missing her for a very long time.

“Oh for grace to trust him more!”

Labels – SheLoves, September 2016

When I sat down to think and write about this month’s theme, I was feeling a bit blue and confused about a lot of things happening in my life these days. So this is what came out. I’m feeling somewhat better now, but I still stand behind this assertion. I’d love you to join the conversation over at SheLoves this fine Saturday (and beyond . . . )

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When I sit down and think about it, I must admit that I have carried a long list of labels across the length of this life. From the moment of my birth, two of those have been First Child and Eldest Girl. In early childhood, I earned the title Tall Girl — I was the student in the center back row of each of my elementary school classroom pictures. More painful was the lovely name Fish Skin, thrust upon me by a couple of nasty 2nd grade boys who observed a skin condition I was born with (and live with still — a condition that has brought its own special pain — both literal and figurative). Never-to-be-forgotten from those early years was the ever-present Good Girl. That last one hung around for a very long time and occasionally shows up even now, in my dotage.

In high school, I was known as Religious Girl and Brainy Nerd, both of which I owned with a small share of gratitude and grace. For a little fun and academic relief, I was happy to carry the title of Alto in every choral group available to me. It’s also true that I was known as Wallflower and Seldom Dates, titles I wore with some chagrin, but also a healthy amount of acceptance and understanding. Tall, Religious and Brainy do not usually merit Popular or Prom Queen, after all!

At church, during those same semi-awkward years of junior and senior high school, I discovered a set of very different labels, ones that surprised and pleased me. They included Leader, Bible Student, and Insider. That last one was a particularly pleasant and welcome piece of my own growing identity between the ages of 12 and 18.

I left home for University with an enormous amount of excitement and anticipation, eager to be away from my small town, plunging happily into the crowd of 34,000+ students at UCLA. I joined a small Christian living group, met the man who would become my husband, and moved with relief into a completely new set of labels and identity markers. I was nowhere near the smartest woman in the room and that was a huge relief to me; I released every desire to attain a high grade point average, preferring to revel in the joys of independent living and a deepening romantic relationship.

During those college years, I was Dick’s Girl, and eventually, Dick’s Wife and Married Student. I also grew into my full 5 feet 10 inches and began to appreciate the joys of seeing the world from that height. By then, I am happy to report, that childhood label Tall Girl no longer bothered or embarrassed me.

I was delighted to carry the label of College Graduate with me as we sailed across the Atlantic for two years of short-term mission work, teaching school in Zambia. I grew to enjoy being English Teacher, Drama Coach, and Sportsmaster’s Wife during our time there. I also learned to cook, though I never got quite good enough at it to merit a label of any kind in that department.

Five months before we returned home, I added one of the most significant and life-changing titles I’ve ever carried, one I relish to this day: Mommy. Our eldest girl was born in Africa, another followed two years later and a boy two years after that. For twenty years, that was my primary identity, one I loved and worked hard at, not always successfully. Along the way, I picked up a few more: Community Volunteer, Bible Study Teacher, Soloist, Worship Coordinator, Newsletter Editor, Little League Team Mom, Room Mother, Chief-Cook-and-Bottle-Washer, Laundress, etc., etc., etc.

Those were rich and exhausting years but as my children grew up and moved out into their own lives, it became clear that a few more labels needed to be added to the list that is my life. These, however, became much more than monikers. Like Mommy and Wife, the titles Seminary Student, Pastor, Preacher, Bible Teacher, Pastoral Counselor, Spiritual Director and eventually, Writer, became descriptors of parts of me that are deeply rooted, divinely gifted, and vocationally oriented. They are labels, yes, indeed. But they also tell a story, one that continues to unfold and evolve. They speak to the heart of who I am.

But now, right now, I am discovering a label that I did not ask for, do not want, yet cannot avoid, and it is this one:

Wanna know what it is? Well, please just click here and join us at SheLoves!

Dearest Addie . . . (a letter, a book review and a synchroblog)

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Do you remember this lovely box, exploding with sunshine?

I surely do. It arrived on my doorstep in the earliest days of my recovery from nasty foot surgery, in mid-June, 2014. I’d injured myself and then discovered there was a whole lot more goin’ on in that dang foot than what I’d done to it. I was facing into a long recovery (much longer than we knew back then) and I was feeling L O W.

And then a lot of my internet friends did some remarkable things, and YOU were among the first. YOU sent me this box of yellow love. Every bright and lovely piece of this glory broke right through my sadness, my loneliness, my pain (both physical and emotional), and helped me to hang on during a long and difficult time in my life.

Now, sweetheart — look again at that date up there, okay? 2 0 1 4. Just a few short months after the journey you took with your boys, that long trek to Florida and back, the one you’ve written about so magnificently well in this new book of yours:

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I had no idea you had struggled so earlier in that year. But somehow, it seemed important, as I write this strange epistle/review/blog post, it seemed important for me to remind you of how good, kind, thoughtful, insightful, intuitive and gifted you are even when you’re in the middle of a long, dark season in your own spiritual journey.

BTW, that cover? One of the best depictions of what’s actually inside the book that I’ve about ever seen. Genius! Not all of this tender journal was easy to read. I hate that you do battle with depression, that you sometimes have such a low view of your own, wonderful self. So some of this was painful to read. 

But all of it was so good to read. Because what you come to, where you arrive, as you drive through the cold and the dark, as you deal with two pre-schoolers caged inside a small space for hours at a time, as you read your first book aloud in small town libraries and book stores and church basements, as you stay with friends and family, as you struggle to get those boys to sleep, as you eat at way too many MacDonald’s, and do a little bit (a very little bit) of sight-seeing — what you come to, in the end, is yourself. 

And that, my dear, is the point. The goal. The reward. In this second book, you continue to do the good work started in “When We Were on Fire,” the good work of jettisoning the crap gathered in way too many rah-rah, emotion-heavy, guilt-inducing, misguided youth events. And you begin to see the light. The LIGHT. The truth that the Jesus walk is not so much about ‘re-discovering’ the emotional highs of adolescence, but about the steady, day-by-day commitment to putting one foot in front of the other.

It’s about seeing the light in small things, like the sun shining on your son’s hair, or smelling the first real cup of coffee after too many cups of tea, (or, if you’re a tea-drinker like I am, savoring the spicy scent of chai after too many stale coffee-breath greetings from friends!). It’s about accepting the truth that ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are pretty much meaningless terms when we’re talking about real life. It’s about letting go of the lists — you know the lists! Those things we’re ‘supposed’ to do to be ‘good’ Christians, the things we’re supposed to feel, or even believe, in order to pass muster.

It’s about letting go of all of that, and leaning hard into the truth of grace. It’s about learning to trust that there is not one thing we can do or not do that will make God love us any less or any more than God already does. It’s about breathing in and breathing out and saying the name of Jesus when we do. It’s about seeing and being seen. It’s about really, really, living. Not ‘living it up,’ not living on an emotional high forever, not even ‘living for Jesus,’ whatever the heck that means.

It’s about living real. Because I’m here to tell  you, there is NOTHING more real than God, even when God seems absent, even when you’re driving in the dark of night, even when you’re struggling hard to re-create old experiences that simply are no longer possible or even desirable. You put it beautifully on page 225 (and a lot of other places, too, but this one’s the shortest:

“It’s not up to me to flip on the lights. the Light is already here.”

YES, Addie!! Yes, yes, yes. The Light is already here.

Thank you for writing this searingly honest book, for owning your own weaknesses, for showing us the shadow side. And here’s why I thank  you — because with  your exceptional writing grace, your skill, you illustrate this powerful truth: the shadow side is our teacher. Yes, there are parts of the shadow that we need to shine a bright, harsh light on, that we need to clean up and clear out. BUT . . . those shadow parts of us are also primary avenues through which God can show us more about grace, more about love, more about the human condition, more about truth than anywhere else. Like Barbara Brown Taylor (another one of my FAVES) in “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” you have shown us more about the light than any 1000 titles about sunshine-theology. 

So, I thank you. I thank you for the box of sunshine at a dark time in my own journey. And I thank you for this beautiful book. May you be blessed beyond measure by the way people respond to it.

Much, much love,

Diana

Oh! Before I go, I wanted to share with  you a couple of quotes that landed in my inbox today from a journal I subscribed to for many years, one that I used frequently in sermon prep and for devotional reading. It’s called “Weavings,” and if you don’t know it, I highly recommend it. These were in a monthly devo kinda thing, but each of them spoke to some of what “Night Driving” deals with, so I thought maybe you might enjoy them:

As people of faith, we need to remember that the resurrection tosses out all standard expectations and measurements of failure and success. Neither failure nor success is good or evil; both can result in growth, stagnation, or regression. In our struggle with failure and success, we may find a hidden strength as we commend our spirits to our Creator and seek to yield our lives to love. Our challenge is to have faith—in failure, in success, in whatever life brings. The unexpected turns, the painful endings, the precarious beginnings are all part of the path of faith, where we are reminded with each step that the resurrection did not happen only once long ago—it happens each day of our lives.  — Jean M. Blomquist, “Weavings”

Pure faith hears the full silence of God, and believes—for the absence of God touches one’s thirst more than the presence of everything else. “In the desert we go on serving the God whom we do not see, loving [the God] whom we do not feel, adoring [the God] whom we do not understand, and thanking [the God] who has taken from us everything but [God’s self]” (Charles Cummings,Spirituality and Desert Experience). In time, the search becomes the goal, the longing becomes sufficient unto itself, and the perseverance transforms the meaning of success. Then some quiet evening, perhaps by full moon, it becomes strangely self-evident that we would not be searching had we not already been found. And the desert blooms when we find ourselves willing to be last—not because the last may become first, but because the game of “firsts” and “lasts” is no longer of interest.” — W. Paul Turner, “Weavings.” 

A Love Story — for SheLoves

Theirs is a love story that not many remember these days. One of them has been gone from this plane for 10 years; the other has no memory of ever being married, despite their 63 years together. So it’s my story to tell now . . . you can start this sweet tale here and click over to SheLoves to continue it. It’s a good one for Valentine’s Day weekend, don’t you think?

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Celebrating 50 years on the island of Kauai in 1991

On paper, they were seriously mismatched. He, the brilliant, favored son of a well-educated southern family, she the hard-scrapple middle child of working class Canadians, each family migrating to the Los Angeles area before their kids were old enough to remember anyplace else.

Ben’s family was firmly ensconced in a downtown Methodist church, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, providing leadership in a multitude of ways. Ruth was a church orphan, whose parents dropped her at the front door each Sunday.

They came up through the youth group separately — he, four years ahead of her — but each knew of the other. She had a steady boyfriend by the time she was in high school and dated him for four years, most of their life together centered around that old brownstone church.

Ben was gifted musically and intellectually, but very reserved, even shy. Ruth was vivacious, smart, mischievous, funny and a natural leader. He stood on the sidelines of her life for a while, becoming increasingly smitten. After Ruth’s early relationship ended, they gravitated toward each other, each of them happy to discover the ways their differences were complementary.

The rest, as they say, is history. They ‘went together’ for several years, as he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCLA; she matriculated there, but dropped out when family funds evaporated. By then, they were committed to marriage, the US had entered WWII, and her folks saw no reason for her to get a degree. She regretted it the rest of her life.

He failed to pass the physical for the draft, so began to teach in San Diego at a small military academy. In 1941, they married in a friend’s garden, honeymooned in Laguna Beach, and settled into community life at the school.

Their love for one another grew deep and sturdy, but it was never particularly easy, especially during those early years. His family didn’t really approve of her — his mother took to her bed for a full week when they announced their engagement and wore black to their wedding. Each of their families of origin had their own unique dysfunctions and patterns and, as is true for all of us, the wounds of childhood were real and lasting.

He was the ‘show-kid,’ his skill at the piano and in the classroom regularly put on display by a pushy mother. She was the caretaker, intervening at a very young age when her dad came home drunk and became verbally and even physically abusive to everyone in the family.

He kept things in, she let them out, often in a big and dramatic way. Learning to communicate, to deal with anger issues, to build their own individual self-confidence — these were issues that didn’t go away.

Hop on over to SheLoves to finish this story and to share with all of us a love story that’s important in your own life.

Becoming the Right Size — SheLoves

This is quite possibly the most vulnerable and personal post I have ever written. It was time to tackle this very large piece of who I am (pun intended). You can begin the post here and then please follow the link to finish it over at SheLoves today:

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Sometime in the early 1980s

I have jokingly said that I’ve never been small in my life. Trouble is, I am only half-joking. I am a large person — always have been, always will be. I have baby pictures with my closest cousin during our first year — and believe me when I tell you this — I am gargantuan compared to this lovely, tiny peanut of a babe who grew up to be one of my favorite people in the universe. That picture was frequently taken out at family gatherings, everyone always marveling at the giant child in their midst.

Until the boys began to have hormones moving through their systems at about age 14 or so, I was also the tallest in my class. Always. I was awkward, uncoordinated, had difficult skin issues and stick straight hair that my mother was incessantly trying to curl with permanent wave solution. And no, it did not work.

I was also loud, sometimes quite bossy and usually anxious about something. Not the best combo in the world for developing a sturdy psyche or nurturing a strong sense of self. All these things made me feel overwhelmingly large in any social situation — on the edge, insecure, impossible to hide. And somewhere inside myself, I decided that I might as well BE big, the biggest of them all.

So I worked hard. I studied, got great grades, learned a lot of different things, developed the cooperation gene to the fullest extent possible, and tried to ‘blend in.’ I did what was expected of me, trying not to stir up the dust as I worked.

I did this for a very long time – decades, in fact. I was the quintessential ‘big girl,’ absorbing everyone’s expectations, grief, neuroses, demands, anger, neediness. And somewhere along the way — about the time I started to have babies — I became a really, REALLY large woman. I enveloped myself in a layer of extra pounds that fluctuated from time to time, but always managed to keep me safe, well-padded and sturdy in the midst of whatever turmoil might be raging around me.

I remember successfully losing about 60 pounds one year and going for a dip in the pool at a friend’s house. She turned to me with a surprised look on her face and said, “Wow, Diana, you’re actually quite a small person, aren’t you?”

Can you guess how fast those pounds came right back on? Small? ME? No way. Everything in me was repulsed at the thought, and shocked to think she might be right.

I could not be small, you see. I could not. I did not know myself as a small person. How would I possibly manage all the pain I carried if I were small?

So I made sure I was big enough to shoulder the load.

Please click here to continue the conversation over at SheLoves . . .

“Praying and Believing” — a re-post for Michelle DeRusha

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I am not writing online about my journey with my mom these days. I’m trying to gather it all into something approaching a book, so after the new year, much of my time and energy will be devoted to that particular kind of gathering. 

My connection to my mother is deep and important and our time together is complicated, lovely, difficult and an ongoing part of my daily life. She is still a heroine to me, even in the throes of dementia. Why? Because what remains of my mother is beautiful. Quite stunning, actually. And that is a gift. Yes, I wish she had her memory. Yes, I wish we could enjoy the kinds of deep conversation and belly laughter that we once did. But as we walk this path, I am struck by the ferociously glorious light that shines out of her face and her spirit. 

As I said, what remains is beautiful.

So when my friend, Michelle DeRusha, wrote and asked if she could re-post my contribution to her “Faith Heroine” series, I said yes. Because sometimes it’s good to remember what was.

You can find that piece by clicking here.

Finding Home

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I was young. Really young. Married at 20, midway through my senior year at UCLA, planning a Big Trip soon after graduation. I looked forward to that trip with eager anticipation, eagerly awaiting a chance to Get Out, Get Away, Be On Our Own.

Actually, it was a bit more than a trip. It was a two-year commitment to live and work in a country far from our home in southern California, a two-year trek to a very different life, a very different place. I’ve written about it here (see the African Journey page up top to see those six posts) and I’ve mentioned it here and at other places around the web.

But I don’t think I’ve ever talked about what it was like to come home again, to find my way back to the familiar, to re-enter our larger family circles, this time as a new mom and a more thoughtful and experienced world traveler.

It was good. And it was hard.

It was good because I desperately wanted our brand new, 5-month-old daughter to know her grandparents and other extended family. It was good because we were eager to see where God would lead us next. It was good because we both come from loving, involved family systems and we had missed that. A lot.

It was hard for many of the same reasons. Going away for two years was one of the best gifts we ever gave our marriage. Both number-one children, each of us deeply infected with perfectionism and performance pressure, it was good for us to move very far away, where there were no family resources to rely on, where we would be forced to rely on one another and to make our way into a complex, new-to-us cultural venue — or two. Zambian and missionary cultures presented two very different sets of challenges. 

The first two months back found us in my parents’ small guest house — really my dad’s study in their backyard — with no bathroom and no kitchen. For two l o n g months, while we waited out the job search and began to resettle into 20th century American life. Overall, it was a good time, a rich reminder of the blessings that were ours because of the families in which we grew up.

But it’s always tough to move back in with your parents after you’ve left home, isn’t it? And my relationship with my mom has always been fraught with multiple levels of complexity. We love each other very much, but I gotta tell you, there is no one on this earth who can get under my skin like she can!

I began a lifelong battle with my weight while we lived there for those two months. All of my growing up life, my mother worried about how I looked. She had me taking diet pills in high school, sent me with cottage cheese for lunch, worried that I’d be both too tall and too heavy to get a man. 

And once we came home from Africa, beautiful new baby in tow, almost her first words to me were, “Gettin’ a little broad across the beam, aren’t you?”

And I had gained a few pounds with that baby. A few. But I look at those pictures now and I wonder — what in heck was she talking about?

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I’ve often wondered if my complicated relationship with food isn’t directly related to that kind of offhand, semi-snide comment from my mother. Mom’s fears about me took root and I responded in a strange and opposite way. I think maybe it was the only form of rebellion I could muster, because I was a very, VERY good girl while I lived in their home.

But once that baby was here — and another one less than two years later, and another one just 2.5 years after that? Well, let’s just say, something in me — both physiological and psychological — shifted, and I began piling on the pounds.

Eventually, my mom seemed to find peace with the ‘real me,’ and now, in her dementing years, she cannot stop telling me how wonderful I look, what a fine person I am, how proud she is of me.

And how jealous she is of me, too.

That last one has been a stunner for me, a slice of real-life cognitive dissonance that I haven’t yet fully internalized. We’ve been home for 45 years now — and I’m still finding my way.

Because coming home is hard to do. And finding home can take a lifetime. Emily Wierenga has written a brand-new memoir, releasing today, called, “Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look.” It’s a rich memoir, laced with poignant story-telling and honest reflection. She, too, traveled far to find out that home was right where she left it.

I encourage you to read this intriguing story, to reflect with Emily as she discovers that her parents, whom she never felt loved her very well, truly do love her, with all their hearts.

Described as a ‘travel memoir, this book is actually a beautiful story of two marriages, her own and her parents’. And the revelation that sang to me was this one: when her mom became so very ill that her father became a primary caregiver, Emily’s parents found one another in ways both new and beautiful.

Emily has said elsewhere that her parents’ changing marriage became the beautiful one that it now is because her sometimes acid-tongued mom began to submit herself to her husband’s caring leadership. But as I read it, it seemed so much more than that. I saw a couple blossoming into newness of love because they each submitted to the other, in the process discovering each other all over again.

Emily and Trenton go through a long and often difficult process of rediscovery as well. And there, too, what Emily describes is a lovely journey for each of them, as they both learn to love and submit, love and submit.

It’s a beautiful book, one I recommend to you for it’s lyrical prose and it’s heartfelt commitment to truth telling. I received an advanced reader’s copy of “Atlas Girl,” and am grateful to have read it and more than happy to review it. Reading it prompts a lot of personal reflection on the meaning of home and what it means to find home after a long season of wandering. I encourage you to read it yourself. 

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Atlas Girl is more than a book; it’s a journey in which Emily Wierenga takes you by the hand and invites you into the broken places in her life. She shares the unexpected beauty God has created in those places as he’s made her heart whole again, and how he can do the same for you. If you’ve ever been hurt or gone through a hard time, this book will give you hope and a new understanding of God’s love for you.” ~ Holley Gerth, bestselling author of You’re Already Amazing

“The best memoirs combine the storytelling elements of a novel–smart pacing, tactile details, people you care about–with the deep insights and spiritual takeaway of great nonfiction. Emily Wierenga deftly serves up that rich blend in Atlas Girl, a nonlinear, wholly moving account of her life’s journey so far. Her honesty is raw, real. Her faith is hard-won. And when it finally pours out, her love–oh, her love soars off the page and makes a nest in our hearts. Brilliant and beautiful.”~ Liz Curtis Higgs, bestselling author of Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them

“This isn’t just a book, this is a journey. Of grief and wonder, loss and gain. Emily tells a world-spanning story that this world needs in Atlas Girl!” ~ Jon AcuffNew York Times bestselling author ofStart and Stuff Christians Like