Opening Night

When I was in high school, the musicals were a huge production and those who starred in them, or played any part at all, were like mini-celebrities in our small, rural community, where our school building was tucked in the midst of a cornfield. We performed to a packed gym, standing room only…for three nights. A dress rehearsal, opening night, and Saturday night. It was a given. Full house.

I remember well, standing behind the curtain, shaking with anticipation, refusing to look on the other side of the curtain. Nervousness. Sweaty palms. Dry throat. When I opened my mouth to speak, would I remember my lines? When I opened my mouth to sing, would I have a voice? Would my body betray me under the weight of the panic rising and the pressure of wondering if the months of preparation would hold up in the moment. One moment. Would my offering be worthy?

I overcame the panic, by reassuring myself that I was the character. It wasn’t me standing on that stage. It wasn’t my performance on the line. I disappeared under the costume. Covered safely beneath the makeup.

It was Minnie Faye, or Mrs. Banks, or Rosie.

Not Kelly.

It made the pressure tolerable.

Hiding there freed me to soar beyond the crippling limitations of stage fright.

Rewind further back to eighth grade. My memory is poor. So, I cannot tell you why this moment is crystal clear in my mind, as if it happened yesterday. Other than it was one of those significant memories the Lord saw fit to tuck away, knowing it would be relevant to the shaping of the future. Relevant to this moment, standing backstage, wondering if my offering would be worthy. Wondering if anyone would come. Wondering if my knees would buckle beneath the pressure.

We were riding the bus, which was a rare occurrence, being a town student who had always walked to school with friends. Perhaps we were on our way to a field trip to tour the high school. As we drove past the building, I looked over at my friend Nicki…the one to whom I could safely whisper all of my secret, sacred dreams…the one who held them close to her heart, safely, and never mocked the sacredness. I leaned in closer, and spoke one of my deepest “What ifs” aloud.

“What if I never become a writer?”

It was a faraway dream, like the ones I’ve heard boys whisper to and from carpool. Dreams of standing on the baseball field…or football field…or golf course. Crazy, farfetched dreams of making it to “the show.” Becoming a professional athlete. And, yet…I craved it at the time, being an author, as if it were something to be grasped. As if it were possible. Youth…the magical season of life, a time when crazy dreams seem attainable. A time, untainted by the death bed, the dashed hopes, the disappointments of the drudgery of everyday…the grim realities of missed opportunity and regret and not measuring up. A time where dreams come true and Santa just might be real.

In a flash, I traded one dream for another, when I told my mother I was pregnant the week before my graduation from high school. Teachers would be disappointed at the lost potential. Family members were disappointed. My mother was not, or if she was, she tucked it safely away. She knew about trading dreams. I knew instantly, that this dream was far more valuable than any other I had dared to hope for. The trade was not even a blink in my eye. I have no regrets. I knew from day one of being a mother, while life was still being knit together in my womb, that this treasure was far more precious than words on a page, than life on a stage, than any accolades or accomplishments the world could offer. The boy I held in my arms at the tender age of eighteen became my new dream. The sacredness of being his mother. Of creating a family, and maintaining that family. I learned to pray when my knees buckled under the weight of the responsibility. Being a mother was far more significant than any other title I could ever hold, any role I would perform. I didn’t look back.

We filled the years, with birthday parties, and Christmas mornings. We dreamed dreams of a quiver full of children and stood beside tiny graves instead…holding tightly to the one God gave us when we were young and fragile and growing up before our time. We traded our old dreams for new…again and again. Another miracle filled our arms, and we continued on with baseball games and golf tournaments, trading dreams, living life, washing dishes, shaping concrete (Tim…not me), realizing that cheering them on at the sideline was so much more than any dream we dared to grasp for ourselves.

And those in this small railroad town. Those who once filled the gymnasium to receive our humbled offering…prayed prayers for our little family, as we stumbled and held on.

When God said it was time to write the words again, to tell the story that I never dreamed of telling, a story I would never have asked to write, I obeyed. And, the words flowed from my heart like therapy. A healing elixir. For ten years, He shaped and molded, weaving the story through our lives, a tapestry of grief and joy. For ten years we continued on about the business of life, standing by more graves, cheering on the sidelines, blowing out birthday candles, fighting and making up, serving in ministry, building up a dream from our broken, standing on stages again…this time…not to perform…but to give a far more worthy offering. Not to please the audience before us…but to serve an audience of One. To give an offering of hope, redemption, grace, and salvation from the One who gave His life, that we may live.

One of the hardest things to do, was to declare the offering finished. Complete. Worthy.

How desperately, I still wanted to give a worthy offering. How much I wanted it to be perfect. And, yet, the book born of my labor, is gloriously imperfect. Just like life.

The day the books arrived in the mail, I tore open the package and dropped to my knees on the kitchen floor, tears dripping down my face as decades of emotion rose from the depths, emotion I cannot describe bursting forth, like an erupting volcano. It was like giving birth…the myriad of grief and healing, accomplishment, joy, defeat, victory, humbling broken and sweet redemption.

I longed to run across town with the book in my hand, bursting through the door of my mother’s house…to say that I was a writer. To show her my offering.

And, at the same time, I longed to quietly lay the offering at my heavenly Father’s feet, knowing full well that it wasn’t mine…and that any identity I had was not in being a writer, a mother, or anything else…but simply in being His.

And, in the wee hours of this night/morning, when I stand behind the curtain for this next opening night, quivering, knees threatening to buckle under the pressure, dry throat, sweaty palms…wondering if anyone will come…if my humble offering will be found worthy, it isn’t a character I hide behind, or a mask of makeup covering my face, reassuring me that it isn’t about me or my performance. It is the shelter of my Father’s wings I nestle safely under, it is in Him, where my identity finds solace.

If for a moment, I wonder if anyone will come to receive the most of my heart and my Jesus I know to give at my little book signing, or if I take a stage in front of an audience or church, I find comfort in knowing that my God doesn’t measure success the way that we do. He concerns Himself not with a full house, but with one heart at a time, receiving the love and grace He has to give. Each sacred conversation we’ve shared, from those who have stopped to buy my little book at SGM and told me a piece of their hearts…or their dreams…or those who give in various ways to support grieving hearts through SGM. Or those who have written to say how a word on a page spoke to your weary soul. That has already, for me…humbled and blessed my heart more than I can say…that has already shown this tiny offering to be a worthy one. And, not because of me…because of the Author of my life and the Perfecter of my faith…and yours. Because of our great God. From the moment I said, “I will” when God said, “Will you?” the victory was already won.

Of course, I would be blessed beyond words if many of you would come to the Deshler Library tonight (from 6-8pm) to show love and support, and let me sign a book for you. Even though I’m just a little nobody girl from Deshler, Ohio. And, my offering is small and imperfect. (Because let me just say, it is really frightening to put yourself out there…to pour out your heart with the most you have to give, and to wonder if anyone will come.) But know this…whether one of you comes or several, it matters and it is always worth it to have gone when God says to go…because one heart is worth it. Always.

Because in His eyes, our offering, no matter how small or imperfect, is worthy. Because He is the Planter and Nurturer of the dreams placed in your heart…of the abilities you are given for His glory. Because He is the Author of our lives…the Perfecter of our faith…the Redeemer of our souls…the Healer of our broken places.

Because the words I write to comfort a grieving heart are more valuable to Him than anything grand or mighty I may attempt to accomplish in the world’s eyes. Because the song I quietly sing in the hospital room over the tiny babies in the arms of their mother are perhaps more sacred to the One who sits on the throne than those I sing to a full house.

Because every heart…every life matters.

For more about the book, Sufficient Grace, click here.

Birthdays Make us Feel all Reflective…

O.k….maybe not everyone. But, certainly me. Birthdays always seem to make me feel all reflective. I am compelled to look back on the previous year…to look back on the path of my life thus far. There are the obvious signs that another year has passed: a few more unruly gray hairs (that are more like white against my almost black hair), a couple of age spots on my face from the sun, one of my boys getting ready to begin his last year of high school and another beginning his first year of middle school. (In two days, it will be Thomas’ birthday. He would have been thirteen years old. And, if all my children were here, we would have four teenagers in this tiny house!) There’s all of that.

But, I also like to look at what has been accomplished in the year. Thanks to the Great Flood, my house has been completely made-over. Sufficient Grace Ministries has grown with each passing year, since its inception in 2004. God has grown and stretched me…this year in particular teaching me about loving others with the kind of love that lays it all down and clinging to Him alone. Some new things have been added to SGM…and will be revealed soon. I love that God is always doing a “new thing”. Life is never dull when we’re following Him. I lost some weight, but still have more to lose. Short of a few more editing tweaks and adding of some resources, I believe my book is almost…finally…complete. Of course, I’ve believed that before, and God has shown me differently. So, we’ll see.

I began writing the story of God’s grace woven through our journey of loss and healing more than six years ago. The first draft was 67 pages. I shared it with several people, who have always loved the story of our children and the beauty and healing of God’s comfort.

I asked my friend Betsy what she thought. And, she said. “I think a lot has to happen before that is a book. There are parts that aren’t finished yet.”

I nodded, knowing it wasn’t finished. God had already closed the door temporarily, saying “Not yet.” I wondered why He would have created me with the desire to share stories, with a love for words and writing…why He would give me a story of hope and grace…the most beautiful story I know…and then say, “not yet”. Why would He move my hands furiously over the keys of the computer, pouring out my heart and soul as I literally went back to those moments when we walked the path of the greatest sorrow I had known, once more tasting the bitter cup?

I didn’t know why, but I trusted Him. A lot can happen in six years.

I began writing the story when my mother still walked this earth, before cancer came and doctors said her passing was imminent. There were a couple parts of the story I had asked her to reiterate. She said, “Ask me anything. I remember every detail.” Going back through the story, her presence was woven in, more pieces of the puzzle fitting perfectly where they belonged. Sweet Dinah, who loved me, exhorted me, walked with me, and inspired me along this journey went home to be with the Lord, earlier this year. She was the kind of friend that relished every moment of seeing God’s hand work in our lives. And, she is a huge part of our story.

SGM continued to grow, and as I shared the story with hospitals more pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I was reminded of different parts, and grew in experience walking with other mothers who had shared this path. As Tim continued coming to church with us, his heart softened to the sharing of our story, melted by the ways it touched hurting hearts. In 2006, I stood by my mother’s hospital bed, drinking another bitter cup, learning more about suffering than I ever wanted to know as we said good-bye to her before any of us felt ready. I started a blog in 2008, and still more pieces worked their way through the recesses of my memories as I told parts of our story again and again. God fine-tuned the story, adding more each time I told it, revealing more of Himself each time. Every piece telling another story of His grace. He healed parts of me that I didn’t know were broken, as the tears poured out along with the words begging to be freed from my depths.

And, here we are….2011…another birthday. And, I think the story, now 200 pages, is almost ready. Even if it is never published (although, I believe it will be), it has been a gift…one of the great gifts of my life….to see this story unfold. Perhaps much of it was about healing me. Although, it isn’t why I started writing. I doubt that’s the only gift that will come of it. God is a multiplier of blessings, after all. He doesn’t waste anything…and when He allows suffering in our lives, He uses it to touch the lives of many. He has already done that, but I have a sense that He is just getting started. I’m not sure how many of you are still out there. My blog seems to be growing painfully slow. (I try not to look at numbers, but I also know realistically that most publishers don’t take risks on little bloggers like me.) If you are out there, I would love your prayers. I know that I’ve been talking about the book for years, now. So, it may be seem like something that is never going to happen. There is something about this time…this year, though. It seems to be a year of breakthrough and getting things accomplished. Finished. I am hopeful, and excited about what may lie ahead. Our God is so big…anything is possible!!

Writer’s Write

When I was in Jr. High…or maybe High School, my mother bought me a type writer so that I could have a place to pour out all of my words. I loved the clickety clack of the keys as they pressed each letter onto the clean white paper. I remember wishing I had glasses so that I would look more the part of a writer. As an actress in high school theater productions, looking the part was very important.

I had so many dreams back then, about taking the stage…finding solace in playing the part. Quiet evenings, letting the words flow from my heart onto the pages of the books I would publish. I was all about peace and love then, enamored with the hippie philosophies of the sixties (even though I grew up in the 80s!). Maybe I would be a political journalist (and of course, perform on the New York stages of Broadway on the side). Maybe I would change the world with my words.

My political views are much different these days, and based on different passions. Now I pour my words out onto the computer screen and the buttons make a different sound. I do wear glasses, because my vision blurs after awhile. My face is not the glowing face of the idealistic young girl who dreamed of changing the world with her words. It is rather a face etched with a few hard-earned lines and a few extra pounds. My hair is not the flowing mane of brunette waves that reached past the middle of my once slender back. Instead, it is cropped at my shoulders and peppered with glimpses of white.

I dreamed of taking the stage, writing a book, falling in love, and having a bunch of babies. Some of that happened. But certainly not the way that I dreamed it. I stopped taking the stage of the theater after high school. I kept singing, though. Only the music changed…to songs of worship. I fell in love, and the babies came. I stopped writing for a long time. But the words never left. They just changed…like the music.

I started writing a book years ago, before I knew what a blog was. It wasn’t the book I used to dream of writing. In fact, I never would have chosen the path that led to the story pouring from my heart. But, it was the story I was given. The one that I felt compelled to tell, even if just for myself. It’s always been that way for me. When the words begin to flow, I can no more deny them than I could keep from breathing, for they come just as naturally. I don’t say that as a boast, it is simply the way that God made me. The release of the words for me is like therapy, but even more so. My Writer-Chic friend, Monica, says it well in the header of her blog, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.” Not telling the story of God’s grace and healing, of the children of my heart who graced this earth for mere moments, but changed me for all eternity, the restoration of a marriage that shouldn’t be, the glory of a life…nay, a generation changed by a Savior…it would be an agony.

I’ve tried, actually, to put the idea away. When I started releasing the words, James (who is now nine) was just a toddler. Tears poured as freely as the words flowing from my wounded soul. I relived every moment of the journey our family walked from brokenness to redemption, ashes to beauty, death to life, heartbreak to healing. And I continue to relive it every time I revisit the pages of our story.

At first, we were not ready to share our journey in such a public way. Life was busy, and my children needed me here. The wounds, although healed, were still tender…and for Tim possibly still gaping even years later. As God led us to begin Sufficient Grace and revealed the growing need to minister to grieving hearts, we took steps toward sharing parts of our journey.

I have quietly revisited the book project over the years, never sure if anyone would read it, and not even sure the reason I felt so driven to continue. I entered the blogging world, and found my people. People who also need to release their words…people with stories to tell. I can’t tell you what a gift that has been, but if you’re a blogger or a writer…I suppose I don’t have to tell you.

I read a simple quote once in a magazine (maybe Writer’s Digest). It said, “Writer’s write.” It doesn’t matter what you write, or in what form…but you just do it. You just let the words flow onto the page.

The story I have in my heart to tell is the one that God has given me. It is really His story, woven into the tapestry of my life. The story that I’ve worked on over the course of about six years, is the most of Jesus and who He is that I have to give, as I’ve experienced His grace…and the most of my own heart. I have no delusions of grandeur. I know that I’m nobody famous, and it’s likely that a traditional publisher will not ever take a glance at the pile of pages that share the biggest pieces of my heart. I know others have published their stories in the mean time, while mine has been waiting for the right season. At first, I wondered if that meant I should just give up on this project. But, their stories, while beautiful and serving a purpose were not exactly like my own. My story began long before some of the more recent ones, and I began writing it long before. It’s a seed that was planted in my heart long ago. Should I put it away now just because someone else has shared their story?

It is mostly written…but not quite finished. I am tweaking it, little by little as time allows. Will you do me a favor? Will you pray for me as I finish the telling of this story? And, will you pray that the Lord will be the guide, that His purpose will prevail, that His story will be the one that is told?