Upon waking…

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I couldn’t quite find the voice to blog much, last week, when I speculated that I was dying. It certainly felt as though I were on my way out of this life, and well, when the blue-foam-vomit made an appearance, I knew death was immanent.

Alas’, it was not to be, and I am pretty happy about that, though between you and me, the happiest part is that I no longer feel like every ounce of the lining within me was shredding and coming to the surface. (Chw joked that it is a good thing we watched the Santa Clarita Diet AFTER those several days and not before. How right he was!)

Since I have been given a second chance at life, (wait, at this point it would be like a 38th chance…) my passion has been renewed.

Unfortunately my energy is still lagging behind a bit, but I have faith that it will catch up eventually!

In the few days leading up to my bout with death, I was trying desperately to accomplish some wonderful things. I distinctly remember being a little proud of a few things I was doing, and surprised that I had the clarity to do them despite my weakening health and energy. The super NOT cool part about this chapter in the story, is that I cannot find ANYTHING I was working on. I live in a shoebox, these things seriously cannot have gone away. I feel like I am going insane. Super, super crazy.

To add to the crazy, last week (post severe reaction to the evil spawn of Satan drug known as Cymbalta) I began referring to our local supermarket as Wegman’s. We do not HAVE Wegman’s. In fact, I have not shopped at a Wegman’s since 2002, when we moved to Michigan from New York. Weird, right?

All in all though, I have my health, my family and a freezer full of smoothie packs after yesterday’s afternoon chopping, prepping and stuffing, so I can’t complain. Today feels like it could be a crash & burn day (credit to my cousin for that phrase… Crash & burn days are the bad Fibromyalgia days where you find yourself exhausted and out of commission) except that somehow I am able to accomplish “one more thing.” (which keeps turning into one more thing) so I’ll take it. And that, my friends, is how you are able to read this ridiculously nonsensical blog post about nothing.

You’re welcome!

P.S. If you know where I put my lemon zester, Robot Valentines, favorite pen, stickers, pet postage stamps, pack of bubble envelopes, clear Buxom lip gloss, wireless headphones or packing tape- I’d be grateful for the heads up!

To move to…

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Early on, in 2016, I created a spotify playlist entitled To Move To… As anyone who knows me knows, I am one of the worst “namers” in the history of naming things. To me, at the time, it seemed a clever way to label my workout list. As the year progressed however, this playlist morphed into my motivation for many areas, not just fitness. It is pretty amazing that this long-ago list worked it’s way into birthing the only word which made any sense at all, for this year.

MOVE.

It is a powerful word. It means a vast degree of many things. It reaches into every area of my life, from health and fitness, to writing, to education, to parenting and marriage. MOVE. Stagnancy kills. MOVE. Even if it’s a step in the wrong direction, it is better than nothing at all. MOVE. Move. move…

My word for this glorious fresh and unwritten year is move.

This isn’t my image. It belongs to Vimeo actually. When I saw it though, I knew it fit my vision for this year, my heart for this year, in a thousand different little ways. Move. To move in such a way that the place where my feet were is left better after my time there…

I do not do resolutions. I commit to goals. Typically, but not always, these goals stem from my word. With a word as huge as this year’s, I don’t think there is a goal that would not apply, somehow.

Goals:

  • To read two books (minimum) per month.
  • To learn one new thing, every month.
  • To complete my passion project More.
  • To complete and self/indie publish my novel.
  • To lose those 50 last pounds I need to lose.
  • To literally move to a more conducive home for the next phase of my life.
  • To expand my freelancing/writing income.
  • To enjoy my family intentionally, in simple and life affirming ways.
  • To visit somewhere I have never been before.
  • Find my writer’s tribe and flourish within it.

Move.

Where are you seeing yourself, this year?

Connected…

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As I was plugging right along with everyone else, moving toward the beginning of 2016, it was hard to catch my breath. While everyone else seemed to be swimming and gliding along, just fine, I was drowning. I knew that every area of my life was in complete disarray, it was completely unmanageable and I knew the only answer was to let go.

Somehow, amidst the depression, thoughts of suicide, long days of sobbing and aching in my bed and the overall absence of self, I began emerge and realize how disconnected I was. It was on January the fourth, 2016, that I finally realized what my word was supposed to be. Connect…

At that point I identified as a Christian, yet had no actual connection to God. I was technically a wife, yet my husband wanted nothing to do with me. I had a hard time finding anything that defined me outside of motherhood, and my kids were all three spread out over the country, and terribly far from me. I had not seen my son in two years, I was as disconnected as humanly possible from the very small girl I had raised into the 16-year-old she was. I was of no value or worth to the most important people to me, and it was on this tide that I had floated until my life became something more akin to nightmare than what I had hoped for/dreamed of/worked towards. I remember telling whoever would listen, in those early January days, that I felt like every morning waking was like waking to a nightmare rather than from one. I wanted to sleep all of the time because sleep held dreams with my husband, with my kids, with moments which had once been true but no longer were… Awake rhymed with ache, which was all I did and let me tell you- it was excruciating. In my 40 years of life I have never known anguish like I did in those days.

How would I connect? I did not know. What would it mean to me? I could not say. Was I terrified? Absolutely.

Today, on December the 30th, I can’t help but look back.

Important things to note:

  • I no longer feel like that upon waking.
  • I no longer need to sleep to be.
  • I no longer struggle to know who I am, outside of being a wife or a mother.
  • I am both a wife and a mother, by choice. It may aid to define me, but I am something more.

When I was least expecting it, still drowning a little, I found my way to God. It was raw and ugly because I was ugly and raw. It involved Sunday mornings in church alone, (something I had never, ever done before) and these Sunday mornings always involved tears. Words were sung and spoken which reached deep inside of me and began to stitch and sew me into something new, deeper and better. I began meeting and praying with someone who, alongside of me, dissected me, my depression, my need to take care of others and cast aside myself. I bared all to her and she met me there, without judgement and together we trudged through. (This is something I had never, ever done before.)

Slowly I allowed my need to control the perception of others and just let go of that too. It didn’t matter what they thought. I evaluated, with honesty, whose opinions of me truly mattered and the list was very small. As time passed I began to let go of the toxic ones I thought I’d needed. My relationships with my sister and a few friends grew deeper because I found I was more able to engage in those ways, when I wasn’t tugged in unhealthier ones.

Still I ached for my marriage and my motherhood. As the other things seemed to clear and grow me, these two things seemed to kill me more. It was a journey. A necessary journey which I probably could have gone through while still in my family, but life played out differently and I went through it alone. I learned a lot alone. I learned about me, my motivations, patters, limits… These were things I had never really known before. Being the product of a society that touts sentiments such as Where there’s a will, there’s a way, I had naively believed if I could write it on a to-do list or if _____________ over there could do it, I could too and if I didn’t I was lazy and worthless. I grew to not only admit, but fully accept that I am not _______________. What works for them may not work for me… I am a woman whose body has had a hard life. I have a chronic condition which gives me limits and in order for my body to last many more years, (and my heart, and my soul, and my mind) I need to have grace for those limits. They too, do not define me.

I was able to see my son and spend time with him; take an emotional road trip which led to confrontations, endless laughter and healing; I was able make a handful of precious friends; I worked in two entirely different job fields which each taught me a lot about myself and my goals/heart; I reconnected with my mother with whom I’ve been estranged for what feels like a lifetime; I came home and am working on my marriage (something that felt impossible 9-12 months ago); I was there for the birth of my grandson and cut his cord (something I was certain I’d miss so far away) and have been able to spend endless amounts of time loving on him; I was able to fulfill a life long dream of exploring New England in the fall; I reconnected with an old friend who had severely wounded me some 11 years ago; I got back in touch with the writer inside of me who had been buried under so much gunk… And it goes on and on and on… The people I’ve had the chance to meet, the unexpected experiences I have been privy to. Along the way, every second of this journey I would say to myself over and over again: Connect. Connect. Connect. Connect… And I did.

The lamp is worthless unless we plug it in. I had been for years, like that socketless lamp. I am no more.

My word for 2017 is MOVE. The depth of how far this word can reach is intimidating. I knew weeks ago that it was meant to be my 2017.

How will it look? I don’t know, but I am ready…

Even when… {And interview with Taya Smith, of Hillsong United}

This is a collection of really awesome people who have a real passion for God, for loving people and for living lives that both honor God and share tremendous love with people. You can find them on twitter, you can find them on Instagram and you can get to know them a little better in Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, a documentary (being released on blu-ray/dvd tomorrow) which chronicles their journey as a group, as well as their life journey’s individually, which led them to this place.

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There are several members, so an hour and a half movie sort of only touches on bits and pieces of their stories. It is really lovely, and moving. (So not the point, but I had to say it because it’s true.)

As I mentioned yesterday, earlier this week I had the chance to sit down and talk with Taya Smith, of Hillsong United. While I could have taken a few minutes to share with her my own Hillsong journey/experience, I really wanted our time to be about what she felt led to share and say. I prayed so much about what to ask her and for our call.

(A little back story, if you haven’t seen the film. Taya left home and moved to Sydney on a total leap of faith. She went to church at Hillsong and knew that was where she needed to be.)

I considered weaving our call into an entire post all creatively, but in the end decided to share the interview, as is… (And also, to point out my flaw as an interviewer. I like to say “absolutely” way too much.)

So, if you haven’t already, meet Taya:

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Hi Taya, thank you so much talking to me today. I am such a big fan and am grateful for this chance.

Oh, thank you so much. That’s very kind of you. I am so happy to get to talk with you.

Thank you! I would love to ask you a few questions.

Of course, go ahead!

Like my own, Hillsong experiences, so many fans have some really personal moments. I was wondering what have been some of your favorite fan stories or moments that people have shared?

It’s really special when someone shares that through what you’ve got to be a part of, like through the music that our church produces that it just draws people closer to Jesus and that they have even felt like they’ve been given words to sing in a really hard season when they haven’t known how to express things to God. They’re wanting to continue to believe him and believe that he has good things for them, but they might be in a really hard season. So getting a chance to, as in the latest United record Empires telling someone that sometimes things in life hurt actually so bad that it’s like hell, but yet we still get a chance to praise God and we still get to choose that He is good that He is faithful. It has been really encouraging to hear people’s personal stories about what it has meant for them, and maybe for them it’s a confession that they’ve needed to sing for the season that they’re in. That’s always so encouraging because you know, you’re obviously writing for everyone, but you’re also writing for the ones- for the people- that are actually facing real things. You don’t want to just write songs for people to just swath over and say ‘that’s a really pretty melody’, but you know, the real seasons that give people opportunity to say the things that they need to say to God, and to maybe remind themselves in that season.

Absolutely! In the movie, several different people (other United members) talked about their WORST days and how God really moved in them and met them in those places. Do you have a WORST day where God really held you together and moved you forward, when you didn’t think you could do it?

Yeah, I feel like you’ve just got to live life long enough for life to happen and for things out of your control to happen. You know, God is so kind in those moments because, I mean I can think, of the top of my head, it would have been when I was seventeen and we were coming into the final year of our high school. After that first week of our final week, five of my high school friends were in a car accident and four of them passed away. I had grown up in church and grown up knowing about Jesus and loving worship music and music in general, I kind of really saw the sovereignty of God and how he brought two friends from a different school. One who wasn’t really walking with God but had before but maybe kind of walked away, and then a friend who was super strong in what she believed and in her relationship with Jesus and I just saw how, at the time where it felt like nothing made sense and I didn’t understand it and I was completely broken because I had lost my best friend and other friends as well. I saw how God had, the year previous, brought along a friend and planted these two people in my life, to the point where when everything went to crap, I had someone further along in the journey who was encouraging me to keep pressing in to God and then I had the other friend who wasn’t really in a right relationship with God but I got to encourage and I guess, like, and ask the hard questions of ok, this is really showing me that I needed to have my relationship right with God because we’re not promised tomorrow. We’re given today and you just never know what’s going to happen.

There have been many times that really hard times have happened. Like, I had something that was very hard in my personal life two weeks before we were in studio to record Empires and when we’re in the studio two weeks later Joel (Houston) hands me these lyrics for this song called Even When It Hurts and I’m looking at him going ‘I feel like you’ve read my diary and you’ve written everything that I want to say to God. This is so hard right now, how do you expect me to sing this without crying?’ and he says ‘It’s okay, you can just cry.’ There’s something so nice in just being real with God, He is God and he knows all of the little thoughts that come into your mind anyway, so you may as well just be honest before Him. I feel like when you are honest with Him, and you’re honest with yourself, I feel like that gives Him room to then speak. You’re like ‘ok, this is real and this is crazy’, but again I wish to see the sovereignty and goodness of God in all of those moments, nothing is a surprise to Him. For me, He has always put people around me before anything has ever happened so that if something does go crazily wrong or completely out of my control, He’s been so kind and has put people around me that are going to speak into my life at that crazy time. They’re going to be a voice of reason or they’re going to be a voice that encourages me to press into God and encourage me to know that I can’t control this but what I can control is my attitude and response. Just bring and be people that speak life, no matter what else is going on. I just think if you look hard enough, you can see God in anything, even in the worst situations, He is still God.

Absolutely (ugh!), In the movie you talked about your leap of faith and how you came to be a part of Hillsong. I was curious, before you felt like you were being led there, where did you see (or plan for) your life heading?

Well, I was at a youth camp when I was younger, I went to them a lot because I grew up in a Christian home and it was awesome.  I just remember calling out to God when I was like sixteen, and seventeen and eighteen and just going, ‘God, use me, use me, use me and I love to sing!’ and I’m pretty sure that’s all I said. I didn’t put anything on it. I didn’t say it had to be secular, or that it had to be ministry or anything like that, I just said ‘God, use me, use me, use me, and i love to sing!’ Yeah, and- I’m sorry, what was the question again? I feel so bad.

No, it’s fine.

I’ve only had one coffee, I probably should have another one. 

That’s funny! No, I just wondered where you thought you would be before God intervened with Hillsong?

Right! Well, I always knew it was music. I always knew that my heart was in singing. And I’ve probably said it too many times, but it’s so important the people you have around you. I remember when I was younger, I had said to my parents- and I’m going to warn all of the children if they say it, and for parents just to hold lightly to it and not too tightly- I said I wanted to be a doctor, and my parents held on to that like nobody’s business. They were thinking ‘she is going to go to medical school and she is going to be the doctor of the family.’ I wasn’t like, well, I did pretty well in school through quite a few years, but I just, well we had that crazy car accident with some of my friends and that final year of high school I just really struggled to study and to keep my focus. It was just a horrible year, kind of. When it got to the end of the year, the fact that I even passed- you know, I did pretty well in some subjects, but not all subjects- the fact that I passed was amazing. I just didn’t want to apply to go into medicine or anything like that. One, i didn’t have the marks that I needed, but two, I didn’t want to get into debt when I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to do that. I had a friend, and that’s what I was saying about how it’s so important to have the people that speak into your life, and she just said to me ‘hey, if you don’t sing in some shape or form, something inside is going to die, you just need to do it!’ It was kind of hard-hitting at the time because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what do you mean by that?’ but I realize that there is something about music and there is something about being able to sing and to express that, even if it’s just to God and I forget about any one else being in the room. There is just something so special about that, and I feel like it is how I was created and it’s how I am a creative. Having someone call that out in you, I just feel like it kind of gave me strength to be able to say to my parents ‘I’m not going to apply to go to University or College, I want to sing.’ It was hard for quite a couple of years because I was staying at home and I guess my parents were like ‘what are you doing with your life if you’re not going to uni? You should at least get a degree behind you.’ And I do see the reason for that and my parents are lovely and they never had some of the opportunities that I’ve been given, even to study, so I can see why and where they were coming from and everything. When I moved out of home, to move to Sydney, it was one to kind of look like I knew what I was doing and also to get out from under there and just kind of breathe and go ‘okay, so now how do we do this?’ but I always knew that I would sing, it has been in the kindness of God that it has been in the way that it has happened and the people I’ve had around me. Also, I feel like in an industry that can so easily pick up and chew, and spit out, even like young men and young women who are trying to figure out who they are, in an industry like the music industry in general, it can be pretty harsh, I feel like I’ve been a little bit protected in a really lovely way with the fact that now I’m in ministry in a way that I never imagined. It’s pretty special and I feel the kindness of God in that. 

 

It was here that I said Absolutely a few more unnecessary times and we said our good byes. It is also, at this point, once the call had ended, that I exclaimed how adorable Taya is. Yes, this is on recording and my awkwardness is there forever to remember. Even as I have dissected our conversation, while typing it out for you to read, I am once again struck by the humility and the ordinary relevance in everything Taya said.  There is not one aspect of her life, feelings or journey which she discussed that we can not nestle into and admit we know exactly what that feels like. (Can I get an Absolutely!?)

I am also struck, just now, with how my word for 2016 was CONNECT. All along this journey, this year, I have learned lessons on Connecting (and what it means) in ways that I could never have dreamed up. To be so near the end of the year, and for me to get the opportunity to personally connect with a voice and member behind music that has meant so much to me, is not lost on me. Taya is right, when we really look we can see God in everything. Even when…

(If you haven’t entered my awesome Christmas giveaway, I hope you’ll go do that right now because time is winding down, and if you haven’t seen the movie yet, I really encourage you to.)

The journey…

I have been fairly transparent, on this page, regarding my journey through 2016. In that, I have touched a little on how the band Hillsong United has been a part of that journey. To other people this may sound a bit ridiculous as they are a band and I do not actually know them. It all began with a very broken Sunday morning in church, and a song whose lyrics seemed to dig into my vulnerability in a way I had never experienced before. Through a discussion with a friend, and a chain of events which unfolded from there, I ended up resting my aching, tired spirit to music from Hillsong United. Through each leg of the journey, this year, a new song would reach me, balm me and grow me forward.

I had a very selfless, special friend who had really helped me out and I wanted to do something for her so I bought us tickets to see Hillsong in Boise, in May. I was in a very raw time, my youngest had nearly died from alcohol poisoning, 2000 miles from where I lived. My marriage was at it’s lowest point and while my tendency would have been to feel hopeless about the future, I found myself content to rest exactly where I was. Things could not have been more uncertain for me, and yet for the first time ever, I was ok with whatever were to happen.

I walked into that show, excited to hear the songs performed, which had meant so much to me. I left that show moved in ways I could not have imagined. Things had been said and spoken on that stage, and within the crowd, which led to personal healing and grace (from me towards myself and others in my life) like I had never experienced. I did not walk out those doors, on that starry night, the same person who had walked in them.

A few months later I was able to give tickets to a reader, and see them again in Chicago. While it was a different experience, it was no less meaningful.

Earlier this week I was honored to get to have a phone call with Taya Smith, of Hillsong United. While yes, I am a huge fan (and do follow her and several other members on various forms of social media) I also really admire and respect her as a person. Over the years I have sat across from many celebrities, interviewing and talking, but where Taya is concerned, it felt completely different. My respect for her is more human and less celebrity awe. I think a lot of this, honestly, has to do with their transparency as people. Anyone who has seen them perform, or who has even seen their documentary, can tell you that they aren’t performers as much as people living their passion and loving others. There is a difference…

My call with Taya was a really great, and fitting end to this leg of my journey and the part that she has played in my growth and healing. I would love to play the audio for you so you can hear the sincerity in her answers. Instead, on Monday, I will post the write up of our conversation. I really contemplated a series of nine questions and knew that, while I would not have time to ask her all of them, I could let it flow organically and go to the questions which seemed to naturally flow. I was able to get in three. Much to my daughter’s sadness, I did not get to ask the Justin Bieber question that she believes her future/marriage/and happiness were riding on. (Oh well, Next time.)

So come back Monday, for the interview… In the meantime, enjoy this video of Taya singing, and be sure to enter my super awesome Christmas giveaway!