Parade.

You’ve made tenderly sharp sacrifices in your life, I know you have. I know because I’ve made my own and the more I learn about people and engage in honest relationship, I see we are more alike and bonded than we realize.

You’ve done some hard things, and sometimes you’ve been recognized for it. Then you’ve done some hard things that no-one saw and no-one may ever see. You’ve made sacrifices that nobody will know to honor or celebrate. Sacrifices that are hard on the body, hard on the spirit, hard on the faith.

At times, the challenge is lonely because while we’re doing the courage-work and showing up, still we are spending our humanity on behalf of something other. It’s not glamorous. It’s draining. And it’s good. Really, truly, worth it. But nobody throws the confetti for us. Not a soul parades around our moment with sheets of gold-star stickers, dousing us with praise and recognition for doing this hard thing so dang well.

It’s invisible. And if we’re honest, that’s scary.

I rub up against that scary invisibility feeling and I want to tantrum. Bring the whole ship down because I’m so afraid that my identity will equate to nothingness if I don’t somehow display what I do, get validated, and become thought-well-of. “I just want to be okay” ripples in my head. Good Lord, I just want to be okay. And somehow that profound foundation of identity, of okay-ness, got misplaced and mis-entrusted into the hands of other people. Somewhere along, I learned that a good way to know if I was alright in the world was to look for what others thought, and to rely on opinions, standards, vague vibes. I thought that was the safest, fastest way to know about my place here. (Learning: Opinions change and the standards are weird and consistently evaporating. Such a vital thing does not belong in the well-intended but always shifting hands of others.)

I was thick with longing for easier days when I noticed it. The invisibility of the work. It’s been a long day, a long year, (sometimes these feel one-in-the-same), and I let the hot water run over my hands, splashing around the forks and plates and old tupperware and new sippy cups. A chore I used to avoid engaging in, I now look forward to; because sometimes old hard things are given new faces and old inexperience is replaced with new hard, character-shifting things.

I cried over my sink. Not because washing dishes was hard. No, no. Getting honest with yourself is hard. Getting out of your own way and giving your life to another is hard. The clanky chore I once avoided has now become a safe space to think all the things and feel all the feelings. Catharsis. I cried stingy tears over my sink because, no matter how thoroughly I could ever explain to another, no matter how much someone may listen or try to understand, nobody will ever really know to what extent I engaged in the hard of life. I cried because there were no sparklers or confetti and I felt invisible, questioning myself because nobody could see the work. Not a good look, but an honest look regardless.

And then I thought of you.

And my tears grew like a stream expanding into a river because nobody was ever going to see what you’re bravely doing. Nobody sees how you show up and give it your absolute best try. You’re doing the hard thing.

And shivers scattered across my skin because in that moment I realized: An invisible moment does not equate to an invisible you. Once more:

An invisible moment does not equate
to an invisible you.

Jesus was crazy. He was a wild man who did most things opposite of what seemed natural for a human being. He would perform these incredible miracles, and human nature tells me that he was wracked with all kinds of desires; like wanting to be seen. Because he was human like you and me, he likely had the impulse to find belonging, to measure and compare and earn and produce and to even let those things grow out of control. But he somehow found the ability to deny his reactions for a different and better way, a quiet way of humble service. He would touch a person’s skin and make deaf ears open and slurred words eloquent. Then he would blow minds by turning to anyone who witnessed this wild miracle and say, “Ssshh. Don’t say a word about this.” He would enter villages, trying to tip-toe his way into hopeless homes, ready to help but desperately wanting an invisibility cloak to keep his service in-between-the-lines. Quiet, and unrecognizable, yet never lacking in richness and power.

I have no idea what challenges you’re engaging in that nobody sees, the moments you’re taking the most humble road. I may never ever know. But I know that you are a beautiful human soul with a smart mind and a strong body and a complex life and I know you are showing up in scary ways, setting aside your comfort for the wild unreward. I don’t know your hard, I don’t see your work. But I know you and I see you, because I’m here doing the same. And we are not so different, us people. We carry the same travel-stamps of life, imprinted on our bones the rhythms of learning and shaping, hills and valleys.

So today, I’m lighting the sparklers for you. I’m throwing the confetti and clanging the lids of pans for you. Welcome to your parade, not of recognition because you need it. Gracious, no. You don’t need it. Your secret is brave and beautiful. But I shake the tambourine for you out of respect. Because I honor what can’t be seen, what’s humbling you, what’s courageously done in quiet service, the invisible victories.

The sparks are flying for you, friend.

For the time you celebrated your friend’s good news, even when your insides were balled in pain, suffering through a season of waiting.

For the time you noticed the state of your own spirit and decided to humbly receive help from a counselor, powerfully walking through the fire of learning.

For the time you went to work dark-early, collecting extra hours so you can get home in time to see your child for those sacred few minutes.

For the time you wiped your fragile mother’s wrinkled mouth because she had some mashed potato still in the corner.

For the time you fought the intensely strong temptation to relapse and you bravely gave a very shaky and hesitant, “No.”

For the time you quietly scraped the floor beneath the high-chair, hands and knees achey from the drowning day, pulling up tantrum-flung food in a perfect 360 degree radius.

For the time you saw a hungry man, purchased him a sandwich, and then dignified his humanity by asking him his name.

For the time you didn’t walk away from the fight, and you stayed, and you talked and you asked the questions and you listened and grabbed any hope you could find.

For the time you went with your gut, though unpopular by others who don’t understand, and made your best decision; completely healing and true and good, finally.

For the time you slowed your pace, quieted the noise around you, turned off the devices, threw away the hustle and productivity, and you were present; newly awake and listening.

I see you and I’m tilting my hat to you, you crazy wild humble achingly victorious soul.

{snapped photographs by Andy Olsen, my panda and my best}

It Grew Anyway

I witnessed a miracle. And it came in the form of a golden tomato.

tomato-1-of-1

Sometimes I’m so ridiculously tired. So over-done. So weighed down that my head ostriches into the sand. I wince an eye barely open to take a peak around and somehow the coarsely darkened grit feels perfectly appropriate. Just bury. And then muddle out a sandy prayer, “Help. Please. Just ……. help.”

The language of it all was poor, tired, little. The prayer. It was slumped over, tight-shouldered, dusty and quiet. Some would say I just couldn’t even. Exactly. So tired, the sentence couldn’t even finish.

I had a life-pivot a few months ago. You know, when something around you completely shifts and changes and moves and you have to move with it. You’re rearranging and learning new skills and trying on new roles and getting tired in new ways. Maybe you’re more tender and lonely than before or maybe you’re more zoom-zoom busy-busy buzz than before. Maybe you’re being transformed. Maybe healing has begun. The circumstances could be brand new, or they could be completely the same, but something has shifted – and you have to shift with it. We find ourselves in constant pivots all throughout life. At the time, mine just happened to look a little bit like motherhood, and a lot a bit like learning true love. A little bit like wrestling with cultural standards, and a lot a bit like learning to love myself. A little bit like grieving something gone, and a lot a bit like embracing open-handed posture, okay with the uncontrolled.

I became destitute in my pivoting season, undone by the demands and afraid of the unknown. My prayer lost energy and found scarce words, complete fatigue.

Here’s the thing: Our incredibly big, generously kind God doesn’t high-brow our tired prayers. He’s not some kind of vending machine that pops out a packet of Mini-Oreos if you punch in C3, answering prayers to your liking if you utter out the right code, a code that fits His demands. The kingdom of heaven doesn’t operate on reward systems like that. Full of gifts, full of Life, He tells us to bring Him our faint and fractionated selves. And that’s it. Nothing else to be done, but to let Him nourish you. You who are wobbly. You who has nothing left to offer.

So you’re at the end of all things, chest tight from the exhaustion, and you pray all that you can. “Help. Please. Just … help.” It’s all chaos around you, but what-the-hell-ever. You throw that prayer up into the atmosphere anyway, barely able to breathe, hoping just a taste of water might drip from the sky and soothe your over-worked, over-scratched, over-done throat.

“He, who keeps you, will not slumber.”
The Psalms, Chapter 121

I woke up some mornings ago and my soul uttered the same tired, small, worn-out prayer. It all looked the same. The house, the wardrobe, the fridge, the car, the job, the friends, the sidewalk, the barista, the sink, the garden. It all looked the same. Except that day – that day there was a single yellow tomato growing on the vine out back that I passed by just a week before. I stopped. I stopped because I realized there was no probable reason for that tomato to have turned yellow. Maybe I watered it last week? And maybe once again a few weeks before that? But the pivot-season was, and is, exhausting … so I had little room to tend to a garden, let alone keep myself and my family alive.

And yet, even still, it grew anyway.

Here it is. Here’s a glimpse into the workings of Heaven: Sometimes He ripens things for us. Sometimes when it’s hard to breath and you throw your tired prayers up into the atmosphere, waiting for a single drip of living water, you end up with color and flavor and the straight up magic of a miracle. Because the wrinkled prayer of destitution was met with compassion, and even more, understood. And the drop came down and landed there on that mound of soil, and with stardust in its chemistry and together with the light, it grew a single tomato. And turned it into gold. He’ll work tirelessly in the night, never resting His head in slumber. He will grow and shape and color some fruit just to show you He sees you, knows you, hears you, loves you.

Sometimes we have nothing left to give. Sometimes we are at the end of our own selves. Sometimes we are angry and burnt out and weepy and confused. Sometimes we grieve and we pray and we beg and we lay ourselves flat, waiting and waiting and waiting for movement. Sometimes we take it on ourselves, wanting so badly to get organized enough to remember to water that one tomato plant outside, for love’s sake. Sometimes we can’t remember to brush our teeth before bed or drink a glass of water in the day or bring a jacket. And then, sometimes, we are barely awake, zombie-dazed in our life, and a tomato turns yellow during a thick and foggy season and you realize there might be a thread of hope after all. Because somehow against all odds, it grew anyway.

Throwing those prayers into the atmosphere for you, friend. Asking for yellow fruit, or red, or blue, or orange, or brown. Whatever hue it comes, I pray it finds you in your hobble, in your worn-out space and encourages you brightly. This isn’t the end. This is a moment. He may be working magic. He may be taking the tired for you and turning it into something you didn’t expect. Something rather beautiful. Something rather good.

Thank you, Emmanuel. You are golden, and so surprising.

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Umbrellas

Tendril

 

Practicing poetry, or something like it – On the weight of cultural expectations and cheap ideas of standard.

Listening to: “Meo Blodnasir” by Sigur Ros

Umbrellas

We fall on our knees for them,
kissing royal rings costumed as acceptance.
We hustle for them,
holding umbrellas of standard, muscles seizing.
We shrink and shape and contort for them,
buzz palpitating, paper bags on our lips.
We would do anything
to be liked, or loved, or known; exhaustion.
Listen.
Can you catch it?
The invitation.
Tear the fabric, call out to your sisters.
Climb up the pole your tendrils shake on
and peek your soul through the tip top.
The roof is made of aluminum illusions,
shimmering bounty but offering a crumb.
You are made for abundance.
It’s okay you didn’t know.
Let your curiosity climb, growing one.
When ceilings become your canvas,
go ahead and speckle your truth around this wide life.
Slow and warming as sun on the dampened;
light and seasoned and honest and rich.
Then, when the open sky of belonging fills you,
return down the whisper of your learning;
That we are loved after all, no confirmation needed.
And feet can dangle, here, atop this umbrella.

// K.O.