Saddle Bags


I would imagine if I were starving and placed at the forefront of a great feast, I’d be filled with angst.  How would I carry it all away and save it for when there was none? I couldn’t possibly enjoy a corn soufflé knowing it wouldn’t last and the pheasant would turn to bile and the next day it would all be empty and dry again.  Just bones in the dust.  Hungry.  So I’d sit at the head of the table smiling whilst stuffing dinner rolls in my saddle bags.  We just can’t help but to carry around the angst of our past, wondering if the good times might fade away.

I think of the last few years as a trench that I’ve been living in, just hunkered down with my provisions, escaping for food and coming back to the hole with a heavy sigh.  It’s natural when you’ve been beat down to want to protect yourself from attack and make sure you stride more watchfully into the dark night.

When my foot touched down upon a different future, naturally I was still burdened with the memories.  Nights in the hole.  Bombs dropping and shells exploding and haunting faces in my dreams, hollowed out and empty.  But when you leave a warzone, there is no identifying tattoo speed across your chest.  Separated by enough continents and time zones you just seem to have appeared from somewhere, like you went on vacation with a svelte new frame and more coy responses.

So here I am.  I look down to see jewels on my fingers.  I sit at the fancy table with shimmering lights and roses, where men ask to call and tell me I’m pretty.  And in the middle of the room as I cross it in heels toward the door my insides just rage with fire and bristle.  I remember the hole.  The ache of starvation.  The pit of my stomach is just as far to the ground as it was in the worst nights, and I find my hands clasping around a hard dinner roll. I slip it in my pocket.  Just in case.  The funny thing is that the fear of death and the fear of living have the same effect on me.  Both are filled with the unknown, and that causes my stomach pit to flare.

At 3 am this morning I woke, filled with that familiar dread.  The pain that all this bounty will come crashing down.  The high will subside.  The peace broken. Pheasant always turns to bile in the end.  And yet as I lay there with my two children, huddled to my left and to my right, I heard the strangest thing.  My daughter, who appeared to be giggling.  In her sleep she was laughing, and I heard the manifestation of dreams. I held my children tight and let tears well and realized that God is to my left and to my right.  He stretches beyond me and is far behind.  What, and whom, shall I fear?

I dress for dinner in a house bathed in peace. I have a night ahead filled with laughter, with new heels just for the occasion.  In my slumber I see new life sprouting.  I take the saddle bags, the ones filled with old crusty rolls, and I leave them sitting by the garage door, leaning over just so.  A smile spreads from the ether of my former self, the one who remembered.  The one filled with fear.

I have no need for these any more, it seems.


Use it or lose it



There are times I want to write but the words freeze like cold air and what was once winsome turns rigid, just cracked brittle words falling down like chunks of ice instead of snowflakes.  Fear enters my fingers because it’s not good enough or not worthy enough so I fill my time sulking and texting girlfriends who would rather watch Modern Family but humor me out of obligation. I rattle on during the dinner hour about online dating or my love of roasted kale or the fact that some store clerk told me that my new boots weren’t going to last more than two years and I might as well just buy the six-hundred-dollar ones but I looked her straight in the face and said “I ain’t ropin cattle in these fancy things so I’m sure it will all work out.” 

My brain crescendos into a fury with words, and they must escape somehow, even at the most inopportune times.  Singers sing and trial attorneys litigate and engineers create and painters color and we all just have to do what we are built to do.  So I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to all my best friends’ husbands who have to tolerate my incessant and time-consuming word dumps because they alone allow me to live a relatively normal life without the need of asylum.

But there are times when they jumble, my thoughts, like scattered stamps on the floor. I must gather them and press them into ink and secure them in some form of order on the page with no one around so that I can turn out the lights with a sigh that matters.  Because falling in bed at the end of the day without worthwhile word order is cheap and thin and I like my days to be thick like French bread, rich and ripping apart with a jagged edge.

But there are days I feel like a failure.  Failure at work, mothering, writing, home.  Failure to be thin and keep my perspective and to be the perfect image of who I want myself to be.  You know what I tell my kids? We are all failures. If not for that, what’s God’s love for anyway? 

In the depths of our fear, when we slam the phone down and there is no centering stone and we feel lost and trapped and frozen – when we feel like peeling off our very own skin and we can’t move or breathe and just want to invert into ourselves and be invisible and we are so weary of throwing down dirty cold ice– that’s where we pray.  We cry out from our deep places and ask God to take it, bear it, and hold it.  Because Jesus, we are not enough. We are never good enough.

That, my friends, is truth.  Words stick in my throat like peanut butter and I fear what might come out, and there are times I can’t move forward because I’m afraid of where I might land. I don’t want to face a future alone and I don’t want to cry any more tears and there are times I want to fall down and rip my clothes and never write another word.  But then I hear the words of Isaiah pulse through my veins: “Be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  And I lesson the grip of fear, and the words come out easier, and I can feel a lifting. And the gift that God gave me resonates, and penetrates deeply, and I thank Him for this ability to speak when others cannot. So I trudge upstairs and write, because what the Lord gives  is right and true and it feels good to be following the yearning of your heart.

God has given each of you a unique gift.  Use it.  Nurture it.  Support it and pray about it.  Realize that your gifts are like an oiled slide that allows you to fly sometimes, and even in the midst of winter tragedy you land like a sunny afternoon at the bottom, and for just a little while here on earth, you were free.





I had a dream a few months back that I was dangling on a roller coaster, my hands gripping the sides of a drop-off that went straight down into blackness.  I was in my car with my children, for heaven’s sakes.  I couldn’t risk their lives letting my clunky Chevy Tahoe loose on these metal tracks.  What kind of mother would let go? I couldn’t tell if my car was strapped in or if I would fly off into the cold air.  Where would I land?  Who would provide for them?  What would I do?  Help, Lord!

I shrieked in fear as I sat up straight in bed in a hot, panicked sweat. I have given my life in service for you, Lord, and this is the payback I get?  This is my reward for all those youth mission trips and church services and solos?  Is this really happening? It felt like I just got kicked in the gut, and yet when I curled over to seek some relief, the blows just kept coming.  All I could feel was hurt.  A deep and immense and crazy hurt that I’ve never before experienced.  Worse than cancer.  Worse than my abdominal infection. Worse than death itself. It was as if all the darkness in the world was hurling toward me at once, and it entered my bloodstream like a bad drug.  I was swept under at the sheer the weight of it and was so extremely uncomfortable that I wanted to peel off my own skin.  But I couldn’t, so I just curled up and clenched my teeth, and begged for mercy, and made no coherent sense for months.  And now I’m dangling off a cliff with white-knuckles and I’m a little pissed about it, if you want to know the truth, because I so don’t deserve this.

I’ve lived my whole life professing my faith in God, that he is the ruler and owner and molder of my soul.  I’ve nodded in response to picking up the cross and following Jesus and felt in all earnestness that I was a good believer.  Kind of like most people do on Sundays, before they go home and continue their natural and sinful natures.  And yet here I am, and now it’s happening, and I’m finally tested.   The stability on earth that I clung to with my bare hands shattered and I was dangling on the edge in fear, not trusting God would catch me.  And not only did I lack faith, but I had the audacity to challenge God’s plan, like I put my payments in the God vending machine all these years but all I got out was this crappy mess.  I was such a damn fool.  Or rather, I was blind to what God was really trying to show me.

Now I see more clearly.   What’s so beautiful is that this is precisely my payback for years of loving Him. A realization that I had it wrong, and I wasn’t fully submitting, and all I have on this earth is a cartoon mirage.   Jesus was holding out a hand in my personal crisis to say “Follow me. ”  I could have just said don’t-mind-if-I-do, or thanks, man, or even Cool. My life on this earth is one empty vessel of saggy skin that will rot into the earth, but my soul exists for Your glory, and this is a chance to live into it.  I could have said all sorts of lofty things, but I didn’t.  Instead, I screamed like a girl and asked God to somehow put my Tahoe in reverse.  I basically said to Jesus, “You’re a great teacher, and I’ll take what I think applies to me, but this total submission thing?  This fall-off-a-cliff dependence?  That’s a good one, dude.  Now let’s quit with all the crazy-talk.  I want my old life back.”

I see now what I could not before.  That my old life wasn’t life-giving.  It was full of decay, and stagnant water, and salt that had lost its flavor.  I was saying all the right words about faith and thinking I was in the right camp, like I could fit God within the walls of my upper-middle class lifestyle and would give God my budget surplus.  I liked to go to bible study and talk about Godly things and sit on the front row to be entertained, but the real lesson of Christ?  The die to self part?  Well I’d find time for that later, after dinner and bathtime and lunches and writing and friends and phone calls and facebook and photo sessions and, well, me.  I’d find time for that after me.

But God doesn’t do surplus. He won’t accept lukewarm, or dependence when it’s easy, or prayers only on Sundays.  He doesn’t believe all religions are created equal or we can just slide by unnoticed or half-ass our way to salvation by putting ourselves first.

We have to let it all go.  Not because our palms are sweaty and we just can’t hold on any longer, but because we want to.  And friends, there is joy in submission.  Joy that envelops fear, and pain, and deep, dark wounds.  Joy that frees us from the beating and torture and darkness that penetrates.  It’s in these moments where you have nothing else to hold onto but God himself, when you see His amazing grace mostly clearly. A smile starts to crack, and then it widens, and joy enters in.

So here I am, starting over.  It’s liberating, in a way, to see how God works.  To see how He uses people and circumstances and turns bad into good for the sake of His glory.  And the fact that I can be of some service in the great commission is fascinating and humbling and makes me want to fall down in reverence with tears streaming down these saggy human cheeks.

Lord, thank you for this pain.  With every fiber of my being I scream to the heavens a resounding and echoing thank you, for I have finally let go, and I trust you’ve got this, and I am finally free.   If my luck holds out, I won’t get bugs in my teeth on the way down.