the redwoods

It’s been a minute since I’ve written anything here. I could come up with many reasons why, but in summary: grad school.

I am now nearing the end of what has been the most challenging, most growing, most fulfilling season, and I have a lot of emotions about it. And the way I process these things is through words. So here we go.

A couple years ago I learned some things about redwood trees that really blew my mind. They often grow in family groups called “Cathedral groups,” sometimes morphing into one much stronger tree. One particular group I read about was a group of nine trees growing together as one tree – making one of the world’s largest trees. About 1000 years ago, one tree stood in the middle of this formation. When it fell, it didn’t die. The roots and burls of the stump sprouted, and the 9 trees grew together in a circle around the tree stump and brought it back to life. 

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Redwoods at Muir Woods

These trees resurrected a dead tree! I mean…that’s so cool. 

So here it is: I don’t do very well in isolation. No one does; we need each other. You won’t fall if you have people standing around you. I am a better person because of many of the people who stand in support of me. There are quite a few people in my life that represent my community – the people that give me strength, and catch me when I fall. But I’m going to focus on one group of people in particular for now. One of the greatest parts of graduate school for me has been my cohort. I love these people. We have worked our tails off for 2 years, done some serious self-exploration – sitting in discomfort and vulnerability together – and we have grown from students into counselors. And I would absolutely do it all over again if I could do it with them.

To my cohort, you wonderful, beautiful people: you are my redwoods. I would not be the counselor I am without each one of you. The relationships we share, both personal and professional, have forever shaped me. I am so thankful that we learned from day one to consult with one another and learn from one another, because I now know that I can only be my best when I surround myself with people like you. Through practice counseling sessions, group projects, peer supervision, and many, many conversations outside of classes, I have learned so much about the importance of community within a profession. I have shared so much of myself, both strengths and weakness, and by doing so, received so much love and support in return. You all mean the world to me, and I hope many of us will stay connected as we enter the professional world. This thing that we’ve experienced together – no one else gets it but us. And while I am sure many of us had vastly different experiences in our program – one thing that is true for me, I’m really going to miss this. Not the school work, not the studying, but the community. The shared sense of both suffering and accomplishment. I am immensely proud of each one of you, and the amazing things you will go on to do. I hope we can continue to help each other grow and flourish in our own practices, schools, agencies, and universities. We all came from different places, and to different places we shall go – but we will always be a part of this cohort. And I want you to know, should you ever fall, it would be my honor to be one of the ones standing there to catch you.

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the danger of shame, and the truth about grace

“Shame will keep us in all kinds of prisons if we let it. And it will keep us from those we love, and those who love us.” – Call the Midwife

Some of the deepest heart lessons seem to come from the most unexpected places. This week’s wake up call has come from a fictional nun, from one of my professors, and several dear friends. This 2nd year of my masters program has been emotionally challenging, to say the least. In more ways than I can describe. I have been confronting insecurities that I was never previously aware of, and learning to hold space for not only my own emotions, but clients’ painful stories as well. Some days, I do feel overjoyed and on top of the world. And some days I feel like I’m swimming drowning in a pool of inadequacy, fear, and anxiety. Today, we’re focusing on the latter.

Fear and shame are best friends, and they get along quite well. Shame is a heavy word. It’s also a heavy feeling. Shame can be crippling, even paralyzing. Sometimes it seems to come out of nowhere and sometimes it slowly sneaks into our heart in a way that subtly destroys our self-concept. For me, it has crept in slowly as I have let things slide, forgoing responsibilities and letting people down. I haven’t been a good friend, I’ve shown up late, overslept, and run myself ragged. Some of this is out of my control, and some of it I can do better to overcome, but either way, it’s not who I am, and that is killing me. It is endlessly frustrating that this season of life is causing me to make (what feels like) an incredible sacrifice to myself and the people I care about. If you know me, you know that relationships are of UTMOST value to me. I treasure my friendships and relationships with my family more than gold.

It is really difficult to be in a place where I am having to rely on the strength and kindness of these people in my life to sustain me. And, obviously, relying on the Lord and His endless compassion. I feel out of place and lost sometimes, because I am usually the helper, the listener, the peacemaker.  But my tank is empty. I can’t be fully who I am right now. Allowing others to pour grace into me when I’m unable to give much in return, is really stretching me.Unfortunately, the enemy preys on our vulnerabilities and weaknesses and I have let him have WAY too much space in my heart. Instead of letting my Father’s strength cover my shortcomings, I have let the lies of shame cloud my judgement. I have let the pressure squeeze life out of my lungs until it has become difficult to breathe.

Today, I had to sit outside for a while before I could walk into church. I didn’t really understand what I was feeling at the time, but as soon as we sang the first song I knew: “This is Amazing Grace.” I know this song really well, and we sing it often, but today I heard it with fresh ears. “Grace” is a word that I am very familiar with. However, I think it is really easy for the concept of grace to be something I take for granted. This morning, grace hit me like a freight train. Nearly knocked me off my feet. I haven’t been receiving any of the grace that has already been given to me. Because shame told me I didn’t deserve it. I can’t tell you how many people have told me recently, “I think you need to have more grace for yourself,” and it has just rolled right past me. And when I took time to think, I honestly haven’t been giving that much grace lately either. How can I give something to others that I don’t even give myself?

In class the other day we talked about pain and fear, and how like shame, the posture of someone who is afraid is very closed and protected. Shoulders hunched, arms pulled in, hands protecting the heart. We arm ourselves against pain in order to survive. But as my professor pointed out, the only way to heal from pain is to turn towards it. Like the quote above, shame keeps us imprisoned. In order to receive love, healing, grace, freedom, we have to open ourselves up. Which means vulnerability.

The insidious danger of shame is that it tells us we will be hurt and rejected without any basis of truth behind it; shame assumes the worst, with no real reason why. The power of grace (and why it actually IS amazing) is that it says, “I know you might mess up, fall short, and make mistakes. But you are loved and accepted already, and nothing will change that.” Shame tells us there is nothing we can do right, and grace tell us there is nothing we can do wrong.

Please hear this: grace is not just something to toss around – it is meant to transform the way we live. If it doesn’t change you, it’s not really grace. Receive it with open arms from the Giver of all good things, and let Him set you free.

run toward the roar

Real talk. I’ve been listening to the voice of insecurity way too often lately. The voice is so convincing. It attacks my self-image, my friendships, my confidence, and my abilities. It makes me think I’m not ______ enough in so many ways. It’s defeating, belittling, and it should never have as much control as I’ve given to it.

The enemy is so deceptive. He doesn’t lie to us about obvious things. He is convincing. He knows the weak spots of our hearts and gently nudges our insecurities until they grow and grow. Soon, that voice becomes a lot louder than anything else. And I’ve had enough.

I just finished reading this book called Through the Eyes of a Lion (it was incredible, I highly recommend it!) and in one of the last chapters, he talks about “running toward the roar.” He explains that lionesses are actually more dangerous hunters than the male lions (uh, yeah – girl power!). They will often crouch silently in the grass and sneak toward their prey. Meanwhile, the male lions will be on the other side, where they let out a huge roar. Of course the prey, startled, takes off running in the other direction…straight into the lioness’ trap.

This is exactly what the devil does. He sits, quietly waiting for something to throw us off, an unkind word, something hurtful or difficult, and we cower backwards. We listen to the doubt (maybe that dream was too big, I shouldn’t have taken that risk – maybe that job wasn’t meant to be, etc.) and feel defeated. We run away from the fear and the pain – straight into the enemy’s trap of self-pity and isolation.

In the book, Levi urges his reader to run toward the roar. Counter-intuitive, yes – but this is actually the way to freedom. The Lord actually desires to fight on our behalf, if we would just trust Him. This is what I have been forgetting lately. I have the power of a God way bigger than one thousand lions living inside of me. This isn’t just giving the enemy a knuckle sandwich. God’s truth has the power to completely silence the enemy’s voice.

We have a choice. We can either let the insecurities and hurt have power over us, or we can take back what the enemy has stolen and use it against him. This may be a petty example, but my curly hair used to be a huge challenge for me. I didn’t like it; I pulled it back all the time and was afraid to wear it down. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, and I didn’t know what to do with it. In recent years, I have finally figured it out. Part of it was figuring out how to cut it/style it, but part of it was simply accepting my curls as beautiful and choosing to believe that they are. I won’t let an insecurity rob me of joy and confidence that I could easily have. Now, my hair is one of my favorite things about me (most days ;)! It has affected me in more ways that I imagined – I generally feel more beautiful, and I care more about eating healthy and taking care of the rest of my body. And funny enough, I actually get more compliments on my hair because I feel more confident, and it shows.

I need to apply this to the rest of my life…there are other areas where I am not as good at tuning out the insecurity. But there is SO much power in choosing to listen to what we know is true, rather than doubting and running away from our destiny. When you start listening to what your Father says about you – everything changes. You live in freedom, secure because you know who you are, and when you are unsure, you can lean on the foundation of truth in your heart. When I feel that whisper of insecurity creep up, I will not run and hide. I will stand and worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, and laugh in the face of my enemy!

the power of story

Everyone loves a good story. We love movies that make us laugh and cry, novels that we can’t put down, and telling our favorite embarrassing, funny, or frustrating stories over and over again.

It is no surprise that we love stories, because we were created by the ultimate Storyteller. He has given each one of us a story, written on our hearts. Only He knows the ending. The most beautiful part to me, is that the threads of my story are woven in with hundreds of others. We should never be the main character of our story – it would never be as beautiful, and it would fall apart.

I have been thinking about stories lately for 2 reasons: I recently saw a film called A Story Worth Living, which was really inspiring and made me think hard about the story of my life. And in most recent events, our family said goodbye to my grandpa last week as he left this world.

My grandfather’s life was an epic story. I have learned many things in the last week or so that I never knew about him – too many to even share here. I knew that he was a brilliant man, and took the power of words very seriously. He was also wildly passionate about the Earth, and worked very hard to reuse, recycle, and repair anything he could. He dedicated his life to this work. He was quiet, gentle, and humble. One of the most distinct memories I have of him is his daily evening routine after work: he would sit in the living room with his red wine, cheese, and crackers and listen to NPR on the radio, often with his eyes closed. I think I inherited his love of learning and thirst for knowledge. I remember many times he would help me with my algebra or geometry homework, and teach me things that were way beyond what I needed to know. I remember picking up his issues of scientific journals at a young age, marveling at the big words, and trying to understand what the articles were talking about. I also remember practicing using my left hand so I could be ambidextrous like him :) Grandpa was also the most patient human being I think I have ever known. However, among the few things he did not have patience for was discord among loved ones, and idle conversation.

I can hear his voice, deep yet soft, reminding us to love. Forgive. Everything he said was meaningful, his words carefully chosen. I can hear his hearty laughter, which is never uncommon at family gatherings.

It has been really difficult to watch him decline in health these last few years. He worked until he was 80 years old! I hope I have that kind of dedication to my life’s work. It is inevitable that we will all meet death one day. But when you watch it slowly invade and take over the body of someone you love, it is excruciating. Loss is so much more complicated than I ever imagined, and I know it will be no stranger to me as life goes on. But I don’t want to talk about loss here. I want to talk about what I’ve gained.

I have learned from my grandpa that there is no problem that cannot be solved. There is no age at which you should stop learning, and it is never too late to say sorry. I have learned to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, like doing a puzzle on a rainy afternoon, dancing to records in the living room, riding a bike, taking a nap, reading a good book, and listening to NPR with a side of cheese & crackers. I will carry with me the importance of engaging only in what is most important, and leaving no time for worthless pursuits. I will find joy in what I already have, and find new uses for old things.

There are many things I hope to accomplish in my life that would make Grandpa proud. He was at every single one of my band concerts in middle and high school, as well as graduation. I wish he was going to be around to see me get my masters degree, but I know he will be proud. I hope to (continue) traveling the world, and see some of the places that he went. I want to love and serve someone like he and my grandma did for 60 years. I want to solve problems in the world and repair things that are broken. And most importantly, I want to hold close the ones who are most precious to me.

“I wonder what the other side will be when I have finished weaving all my thread. I do not know the pattern nor the end of this great piece of work which is for me. I only know that I must weave with care the colors that are given me, day by day, and make of them a fabric firm and true, which will be of service for my fellow man. Sometimes those colors are so dark and gray I doubt if there will be one line or trace of beauty there. But all at once there comes a thread of gold or rose so deep that there will always be that one bright spot to cherish or to keep, and maybe against its ground of darker hue it will be beautiful! The warp is held in place by the Master’s hand. The Master’s mind made the design for me; if I but weave the shuttle to and fro and blend the colors just the best I know, perhaps when it is finished, He will say, “‘Tis good,” and lay it on the footstool of His feet.”

My grandpa’s life was a beautiful tapestry. One woven with love, humility, intelligence, travel, adventure, health, and joy. I am thankful for the threads of my life that came from him. Genetically and otherwise, there are many ways I am like my grandpa, some of which I have just recently realized. The next time I am complimented on my curls, I will remember they came from him! Grandpa’s life on this earth may be over, but his story will never end. Not only because he will spend eternity in heaven, but because his story lives on in the hundreds of lives he touched. His story lives on through the memories we treasure. I saw a taste of this at the funeral – many old co-workers, neighbors, family friends, church members – people that all knew Grandpa personally. There were also people who only knew him by association with either my grandma, my mom or my aunt. Each person was touched in some way by his story – his patience, his hard work, his family legacy. My story is forever impacted by his. This is the power of human relationship, and the greater Story we are all part of. The pain of loss is evidence that love is real. And I would rather love, and endure loss, than never love at all.

Grandpa and me

 

the clarity that winter brings

Two of my favorite worship leaders, Jonathan and Melissa Helser, have a song called “Sing Winter” and in this video Melissa explains the heart behind that song:

“The [trees] get the necessity of seasons, of rest and barrenness, to the fruitfulness of the spring and their harvest.”

This story consumed my heart as I took a walk through the snowy woods today. I had gone out to find a place to sled, and was drawn into the woods by a curiosity for adventure. I was struck by how quiet it was. I could hear every sound. The crunch of my footsteps in the snow, birds landing on a branch, the wind blowing through the barren trees. I walked through the trees for probably close to 45 minutes, but it seemed as though time had stopped.

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I found myself pausing every few steps, looking up, and all around. Every tree was unique, there were lots of fallen trees and branches, twisted trunks and thorny bushes. Everything looked beautiful covered in snow. Normally I would not have gone just trudging through the woods, but the snow was so clean and bright, and the trees so bare – I was captivated. This is the clarity that winter brings.

Everything might look dead, or asleep. But it’s quietly waiting. And there is such peace. I felt safe to explore, caught in the wonder of it all. As I walked, I noticed some deer tracks in the snow. Just for fun I decided to follow them. For all I know I was following them backwards…the deer was probably tracking me. But the possibility of seeing one out there, and being quiet enough to catch her off guard – I just kept going. There were many different sets of tracks; they are probably the only ones who walk through those woods.  There was some barbed wire that stopped me at one point, but I slipped through a break in the fence and kept going.

Only a few steps in, I realized I was surrounded by thorned branches. And I mean surrounded. They were stuck to my pants, and I was quickly becoming entangled. Thankfully I was able to step backwards and go back the way I came. I don’t know how the deer managed to get through there, but I sure as heck wasn’t going any further. This made me stop to think – when we run into thorns in our path, sometimes we don’t see them right away. Sometimes we get entangled in sin, or doubt, or confusion – before we realize there was a way out before we ever got stuck.

I kept going, following the tracks as I found them (I would be the worst tracker ever…I probably followed the same sets of tracks in every direction), and stopped to breathe in the crisp, cold air every once in a while. I imagined what kinds of creatures lived out there, every time I saw a tree stump or nest. This is their haven; away from people and cars and noise. For me today, it was my haven too.

I kept having to stop and go a different way, whenever I worked myself into a group of trees and branches that was too difficult to walk through. It was interesting to me how there were clear paths almost, where it was easy to walk and free of thorns, yet venture a few feet off and you’re stuck. Much like walking with God – sometimes our curiosity gets the best of us, and we wind up someplace we never intended to be…

All of a sudden I realized I no longer had any idea which direction I had come from. I was doing really well following the same path, but I had turned too many times, just haphazardly exploring, and I realized I was actually lost. I didn’t think this was possible at first, because there was a major road at one border of these woods, and some apartments along another side. I couldn’t hear traffic anymore, so I knew I wasn’t close to that end, but nothing looked familiar from where I had started. Yikes.

I tried to find my own footprints to follow back, but I had walked in a circle and crossed back over the tracks (again, I would be the worst tracker), so it wasn’t clear which direction I had come from. I just picked one direction to follow and went for it. Within a minute or two, I realized I was almost right back where I had originally entered the woods. I literally laughed out loud. What are the chances?

I had entered the woods with no plan, just wanting to explore a little. I was tentative at first, and didn’t go very far, but then I decided to walk and see how far it took me. I got distracted by deer tracks and thorns (I may or may not have pretended I was in the Hunger Games for a second…) and ended up very lost and confused. Thankfully I didn’t get to full on panic mode before I figured out where I was.

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This is much like my walk with the Lord to me. We enter every new season of life with no plan (or I might think I have a plan, but let’s be honest, I have no clue). Sometimes that is exciting, but most of the time it is scary. I am going to be seeing my first clients in the next week or so. This is uncharted territory. Just like the barren winter trees, I wonder, will I bloom again? Will I succeed? Just when I get close to panicking, He reminds me I am safe. I choose to trust in the season, and stay rooted in what I know for sure. The necessity of winter is that it provides preparation for new life in the spring. I am safe when I follow my guide, my Helper – the Holy Spirit. I may have the freedom to explore, but when I get stuck, I know to go a different way. When I can’t hear His voice, and I have gone too far, He helps me back to the path I was on. This may lead me back to where I started, but this time I have footsteps to follow.

I am thankful for His grace, and for the healing clarity that winter brings.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow” Isaiah 1:18