Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Like a Bridge...to a new life

Who knew that Sting and Paul Simon could bring on a spiritual awakening right in the middle of Madison Square Garden?

While standing in a recent concert with Sting and Paul Simon, I became overwhelmed with the fact that, with God’s grace and by His mercy, I had created a new life for myself.  In 2011, I wrote in a blog post called “Creating Life”,God is the great Creator of life.  I am made in His image.  He is showing me how to create life and beauty in this fallen world.”  At the concert, I had the realization that I am creating life, a new life.

I have been a Sting fan since I was in college when he was with The Police and I grew up in the 70’s listening to the classic “vinyl” by Simon and Garfunkel.  Seeing Sting and Paul Simon on stage in Madison Square Garden was magical for me. I occasionally had tears, very cleverly hidden from those around me, sitting in the rims of my eyes. Not tears because of who was on stage, but tears of joy over my life, the life God and I had created together…by His grace,  the courage and strength He had given me, and my willingness to move forward with life.  Isn’t it miraculous that I could have tears of joy over my life after all the pain I have had to experience? 

I always wanted to do things that made me happy but held back while telling myself that my happiness was not important. While listening to Sting sing the lead of “Like a Bridge”, I suddenly realized I was doing at that moment what I wanted to do simply because it was fun and it made me happy.  It confirmed that with the grace of God, I did, I can, and I do create my life.  I have been creating life ever since my husband died but had not felt like I had the right to create life in all areas of my life.  I learned immediately after his death that I had to be proactive in creating life again, new and fresh, a life that I wanted for my children and me, and not to be afraid to go after it.  A life where I would go after all I have dreamed of doing and be the whole person I was created to be, “unleashed in all my glory”.  All of this does not just happen; it takes a decision to keep moving forward with intention.

Good things come to those who wait” is an old proverb, a slogan made popular by a Heinz ketchup advertising campaign.  Good things don’t always come to those who wait; sometimes the best things come to those who do, or make it happen… like creating life.  You can dream about your goals and your desires all you want but you won’t ever reach them if you don’t do anything to move towards them. During the concert I recognized the fact that I had moved toward my new life with intention.  It had been one small step at a time causing me to not recognize how far I had come into my newly created life…until I heard Sting sing it.

As Sting belted out the chorus of  “Like a Bridge”, I felt like I was in a worship service and wanted to raise my hands and praise God because he had been my bridge. He had bridged my life from pain and grief over to joy and dancing. He had been my bridge from death and darkness over to new life and great light on my path.  I stood in awe that I was actually standing there, in New York City, listening to Sting, and yet feeling as if God was confirming, “I was your bridge.  We did it!  You are here.  You are alive and well!  You are living!  This is the other side.  A new life has been created for you.  A life for you to enjoy.  A life to bring you happiness.  I carried you over the bridge.  What is behind you is behind you.  What lies ahead of you is all new…a newly created life. “  I could have listened to them sing that song over and over as I relished in the epiphany of the moment.

While at the beach last weekend for a wedding, I took some long walks along the edge of the water and  let my thoughts drift freely as my gaze scanned the tide in the setting of the afternoon sun.  I watched the tide roll back and forth on the path ahead of me as it pulled sand back with it creating a perfectly new path for me to place my feet as I walked forward.  It occurred to me that this was similar to the bridge over which God had carried me.  We walk and leave our footprints, our past, behind us, but as the tide comes up, it not only washes away our past steps but it also gives us a clean canvas upon which to place each new forward step…. what is behind you is behind you…what lies ahead of you is all new…a newly created life.

Keep looking forward, toward your new life, with your eyes straight ahead. Trust that God  will carry you and lay down for you like a bridge.   Before you know it, you will be walking in that new life.

"Like a Bridge"

When you're weary 
Feeling small 
When tears are in your eyes 
I will dry them all 

I'm on your side 
When times get rough 
And friends just can't be found 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 

When you're down and out 
When you're on the street 
When evening falls so hard 
I will comfort you 

I'll take your part 
When darkness comes 
And pain is all around 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 

Sail on Silver Girl, 
Sail on by 
Your time has come to shine 
All your dreams are on their way 

See how they shine 
If you need a friend 
I'm sailing right behind 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will ease your mind 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will ease your mind

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Switching Sides

I finally switched to the other side.

…Sleeping on the other side of the bed, that is.

This was a first for me since my husband died over three years ago.  In fact, this blog post could be more appropriately placed within my first blog that follows my grief journey but I stopped posting there after the first 15 months following his death.  But then again, I have found that switching sides of the bed is actually connected to moving on, keeping my eyes straight ahead, looking to the future, keeping my heart and mind purpose minded in the here and now…which ultimately means, this post truly does belong here, on EyesStr8Ahead.

I did some research online to read about what other people have to say about switching sides of the bed after losing a loved one who once slept on the “other” side.  Many spoke of the difficulty, some tried it unsuccessfully and went back to their same old side while others simply made the switch, but I could not find any true insight on the side benefits of switching.  The only benefit I found was that it is easier to handle the night and sleep better if your own side is empty, instead of theirs.  I have found a much bigger meaning to switching sides, but first I had to examine why I did not switch sides before now.

I felt safe on my side.  His big, empty side was between the door and me, and the space gave me some sense of a false security.  I was essentially hiding, emotionally and physically.  Physically, because I would stack up all of the extra pillows on his side, which made me feel like I had a barrier and it also kept the bed from looking so empty as I would gaze that direction in the dark of the night.  The long stack of pillows also brought me extra warmth, which is comforting when you are use to the extra body heat that comes from sharing the bed with someone.  I felt like I had my own little safe haven in my corner with my enormous stack of books on my nightstand, almost like I was in a different room all together by staying tightly on my side. Switching sides for the purpose of sleeping well was not motivating because I have been sleeping well ever since I moved to New York…and if it ain’t broke…

I did not go to bed one night and suddenly switch sides…no, I eased my way over there.  I spent about a week sleeping in the middle of the bed and I slept great. Small step, big victory.  I found that I would slowly migrate to one side or the other and felt freedom and ownership of the new found space.  When putting my reading book on the nightstand or getting a drink of water became a problem (because sleeping in the middle of a king size bed creates much space between you and the night stand), I decided to take the plunge and go completely to his side. That first night, even before I fell asleep, I felt like I had conquered scaling a wall and was taking the deep breath of victory while enjoying the beautiful view from the top.

The feelings produced by switching sides were very similar to what it must feel like to actually climb a mountain like Annapurna.  I felt empowered, strong, in control, courageous and confident. The bed felt completely mine.  It was like stepping into a role of new leadership.  It caused me to discover new parts of myself.  I realized I am a risk taker.  I am not afraid of new and different situations.  I can walk into the unknown and not let fear hold me back.  I am much more spontaneous than I have ever given myself credit.  I like the clear mind and clear thinking that comes from less clutter in one’s life, physical and mental and emotional clutter.  His nightstand was empty of books and sparsely decorated, which I like, where as mine was full of books with just enough room for a coffee cup or a glass of water…. I was hiding in my books in my corner. I feel like I am no longer hiding, behind anything in my life.

I have been hiding by not answering my phone, not returning voicemail messages, not reading emails, not replying to emails, not reading Facebook private messages (because then I would have to reply), not wanting to smile and be myself in pictures, hiding behind sunglasses, not making eye contact…and I am sure I could think of more ways that I have hidden over the past 3 years.  Switching sides of the bed and seeing my little corner where I had been hiding since Michael died gave me a fresh new perspective and I am tired of hiding.

The first morning after I switched sides, my daughter walked into my bedroom and twisted up her brow and said, “Why are sleeping over here?”  I replied, “I have been wanting to try it out.”  I then added, “Besides it’s supposed to be healthy.”  To this she giggled and said, “And how can that be healthy?” She was thinking healthy like green drinks and taking vitamin C everyday are healthy.  I tried to explain to her that it was emotional and mental health and a good and necessary step for someone who has lost a spouse.  I could see the light go on in her mind.

While in the process of switching sides, I simultaneously bought new organic sheets, Italian hotel bedding, new pillows, and a new headboard.  Everything is white, except the headboard, which is covered in natural linen.  It all feels pure, new, fresh, simple, uncomplicated and beautiful. I feel like I am indulging myself every night when I get to climb into my new bed, which feels like another step towards a new life.  I look at the bed now when I walk into my room and, instead of my gaze skipping over his side and focusing on my side tucked in the corner, I “see” the whole bed and I think, “What a beautiful bed!

Switching sides…such a seemingly simple act but with huge implications.  I feel as if I have cast off ankle weights.  I am moving onward a little bit further down this new and unchartered road.  I am keeping my eyes straight ahead. This small step of moving on also causes me to keep my eyes looking to the future, because I do have a future and God has good things planned…in this I am confident.  Switching sides shows that I am keeping my heart and mind purpose minded in the here and now.  

Why did I wait so long?  It was a season. It’s a new season now…on the other side.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Resurrected Desire

I read this quote today and it could not have arrived in my inbox at any better time than this.  My thoughts have been consumed for the last week with this very idea of awakened souls and resurrected desires.

"Desire often feels like an enemy, because it wakes longings that cannot be fulfilled in the moment...Spring awakens a desire for the summer that is not yet.  Awakened souls are often disappointed, but our disappointment can lead us onward, actually increasing our desire and lifting it toward its true passion." The Sacred Romance - John Eldredge

I prayed for several months starting last October for God’s resurrection power to rise up in my life.  My heart, my dreams, my desires, and my passion for life have all been lying dead in the “tomb” since my husband Michael died.  I needed that same power that raised Jesus from the dead to rise up and bring life to my heart, life to my dreams, life to my desires and my passions.  I needed the stone to roll away so that I could emerge among the living again.   I wanted to be fully alive again.  I wanted my children to be fully alive again.  I wanted God to stir up all of these things inside of us.  I petitioned to Him daily, on behalf of my children and me.

…Then it happened… After three months (interesting the correlation to the three days Jesus was in the tomb), He answered my prayers.

Everything has been resurrected and this is great news!  He heard me.  He responded.  He loves me.  He brought me back among the living…but now what?

I feel like a racehorse in the gate before a big race, full of energy, strength, desire and purpose, but still held back by the gate.  I can see the race before me, but it is not yet the moment…and still there are all of these desires resurrected and ready and I am recognizing purpose again.  Like John Eldredge said, “Desire often feels like an enemy, because it wakes longings that cannot be fulfilled in the moment.”  I fight feeling frustrated now at my resurrected desire for life, as if it is the enemy, because it is not the moment and yet I feel so ready for life.   It reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally.  Harry says to Sally near the end of the movie, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."  This thought goes for anything, not just relationships…when you realize how you want to spend the rest of your life, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible.

What encourages me is the knowing that God would not have resurrected all of these things if it were not close to the time to “open the gate”. 

Romans 8:15-21 explains this quandary in which I find myself…this joyful anticipation for the road that lay ahead of me.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life.  It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.  We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.  And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us – an unbelievable inheritance! …That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times.  The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next.  Everything in creation is being more or less held back.  God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready to be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead…. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.”  

After 3 years in the tomb, I feel adventurously expectant asking God, “What’s next, Papa?”…. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens as I wait to be released for the glorious times ahead.

Eyes Straight Ahead….

Friday, April 4, 2014

What Do You Do for Fun? Part 2

Tomorrow I am taking an all day cooking class at the Culinary Institute of America for the first time….this made me think of my blog post with the  lists of “What makes me happy” and “What do I do for fun”.  Tomorrow is the beginning, and yet a continuation, of pursuing my passion to be a great cook and baker.  I don’t want to be a chef or own a restaurant.  I simply want to prepare great food for my friends and family in my home…. this makes me happy!

These two lists seem to be ever present in my thoughts since originally writing the first blog post about it.  I am continually practicing, and giving myself permission, to allow joy to pervade into my everyday life, in as many ways as possible. I now see and feel joy in my life throughout most of my days.   Sometimes it is just a matter of recognizing it and making a mental note…”Oh, that made me happy!” or “Well that was fun!” Music has been one of those, “Wow, this really makes me happy!”

Because of my hip hop dance background, listening to music once moved me in a way that nothing else could.  I felt incredibly alive while I was dancing, choreographing, or even teaching a dance. My face would light up with expressions to match the mood of the dance. I loved expressing myself through dance, using my face and body, whether it was choreographed or free styling on the dance floor. I could dance while sitting on the floor, standing up, or could even find a groove while sitting in a chair! (I always loved the way Janet Jackson incorporated the use of chairs in one of her numbers in her Rhythm Nation tour!)

I lost all of this life and joy that came to me through dance and music, even before my husband died. I stopped all dancing.  I could not have danced even if I had wanted to move.   It had been my life for about 20 years from high school through my professional years.  I stopped listening to music all together…but again, it was a necessary season. I would drive in complete silence for all day road trips.  I would even cook in silence.  The silence nourished me and allowed my thoughts to process life. Those were years that I needed silence…now the tide has turned.

I have grown tired of the silence. Music creates life wherever it is played, and my surroundings, my mind, and my body have been craving the new life and energy that music brings to the room.  My body feels like it is coming out of a long slumber.  A new season is upon me and God is bringing music and dance back into my life for me to enjoy… and it makes me happy! As it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a season for mourning and a season for dancing.  I think the dancing season is finally in bloom! It came on me gradually like fruit grows on a tree…first the bud, then a flower, and finally the fruit.

I now listen to great music in the car and I can dance my body while in the driver’s seat, with or without my kids in the car!  While waiting on my friend last week as she shopped in a luggage store, a great dance song was playing over their speakers.  Without even thinking about it, or realizing it, my body was dancing to the beat right by the front door to the store on 6th avenue in New York City.  When I realized what I was doing I began to giggle.  No one saw me, but the great thing was that I did not care if they had!

It makes me happy that I can feel music again.  Music, and lyrics, are stirring me once again and it feels like a deserted fire has been rekindled inside of me and is burning once again…and its plain old fun!

I love that God thought through all of these seasons and gave us these promises in His word to back up this new season where I now find myself.

Happy are those who trust in the Lord and made the Lord their hope and confidence.” Jeremiah 17:7

And so now I’ll start over with you and build you up again, dear virgin Israel.  You’ll resume your singing, grabbing tambourines and joining the dance.”…”You will again be happy and dance merrily…” Jeremiah 31:4

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.  You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy.” Psalms 30:11

In the Message translation it says it this way,  ”You did it: you changed wild lament into whirling dance; You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers.  I’m about to burst with song; I can’t keep quiet about you.  God, my God, I can’t thank you enough.”

God, I can’t thank you enough.  You kept my eyes straight ahead through the season of mourning and now my eyes get to behold the season of dance….this makes me happy!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Seasons Change

I am clearly stuck on the concept, the reality, and the need for the seasons of life. This will be the third time I have spent time dwelling on seasons in my writing but it is ever present in my thoughts.  The whole idea intrigues me.  Not only our seasons of life, but also how they relate to the seasons in nature and why we, as humans, complicate our seasons instead of simply flowing with them the way they flow in nature.  Before sunrise one morning last week, I spent some time in deep thought about this contrast between the two and how we each approach the seasons differently.

I thought about the multitude of animals and how they handle the different seasons.  In the spring, they naturally come out of hiding to enjoy the warmth and the buffet of new things to eat.  They run, stand in the sunshine, chase one another, have babies, and get plenty of exercise.  In the summer months, they seem to simply enjoy the art of living.  In the fall, they begin to plan ahead for the winter months.  Some animals may prepare their winter homes, some build up food stores, and others become more timid for their own protection, because the leaves are not hiding them as well as they did in the spring and summer.  In the winter, their lives slow down to a snails pace.  They eat to survive instead of enjoyment of the lush options to fill their bellies.  They spend much quality time with their families.  They rest more than any other season but yet they stay on guard to protect themselves and their families from any predator that may see them because there are fewer places to hide.  

Animals instinctively know what to do in each season.  No one has to tell them, prod them, console them, prepare them, or help them to move from one season to the next.  They instinctively know how to prepare for each oncoming season.  They instinctively know the behavioral patterns that are necessary for survival in each season.  They instinctively know when to change their lifestyles to match the season.  What would happen if a deer decided to be stubborn and chose not to make the lifestyle change needed in winter? He would most likely quickly lose his life!  He would be an easy target for a hunter or would not have the stores and strength to make it through the winter if he kept looking for grass or other green plants, instead of relying on what is available for his winter diet.  

The long winter season I went through after my husband died looked very much like that of the animals.  My life slowed down to a snail's pace.  Most days, I ate only to survive…not because I wanted to eat but simply to give me enough strength to make it through the winter.  I spent large amounts of quality time with my family and it was the longest season of rest I have ever experienced. (We are still in need of the extra rest, almost like a mother bear needs a long period of hibernation in the winter.) Interestingly, I also kept myself on guard to protect my children from any harm during this season. I felt as if we were exposed just as the deer are exposed in an open field in the dead of winter.  I wanted to protect their hearts at all cost.  I feel like I did all of these things instinctively but I recognize that many people, while in “their winter”, ignore the season and try to pretend it is still spring or summer.

Why is it that humans do not move quite as instinctively or as willingly through the seasons of life as do the animals?  Are we so busy and out of touch that we miss the cues or do we love a particular season so deeply that we deny the truth that it must and will come to an end?  Why are we so surprised when a season ends and a different one begins? Why do we deny that certain seasons will or should ever come?  Unlike the animals, we have a heart and emotions…this complicates things and can get in the way of our ability to accept the seasons and their purpose.  

Everything in creation has a proper time and a cycle…and yet we think we can beat the odds and so we attempt to make certain seasons last longer because we don’t want them to end or, conversely, make them end sooner than they should because we grow impatient.

In the Old Testament, the book of Ecclesiastes has a profound teaching on seasons.  In chapter 3 verse 1, it tells us not only is there a season for every matter, but also a season for every purpose!  This can be the hardest season to put behind us…the close of a purpose…especially when we have loved that particular purpose, been invigorated by it, felt secure while enveloped by it, learned great things from it, grew through it, taken to new heights by it, or our souls were stirred by it…but purposes are seasonal.  We often forget the good news that there will be another season with a new purpose that will do these things again for us but in a fresh new way. The seasons and purposes build on one another.

In Ecclesiastes 3:2-8, all of the seasons are listed corresponding with their opposite season.  They all exist and they all must take place.  We must then learn to recognize their beginning and their end and embrace them…no matter the season or the purpose.  There is take away value in each.

…break down/build up
…cast away stones/gather stones
…make love/abstain
…keep/throw away

I love that, by God’s grace and mercy, weeping and mourning are followed by laughing and dancing!  Laughing and dancing represent freedom and pure joy!  God knew our physical bodies could only handle the weight that comes with grief, mourning, and crying so long and then we must break free. We must cast off… What better way to break free than to laugh and dance!  The freedom that comes from dancing and laughing lifts away the weight and brings joy back to life.  This is a season I am willing to step into and embrace.

I want to keep my eyes straight ahead and be completely present in every season and every purpose that God brings my way.  I want to receive all that He has for me in each season.  I want to recognize purpose in all things and I pray that I will have the wisdom to discern when a matter has served its purpose…and another change of season and a new purpose begins.