Twisted Into Beauty

It is a beautiful, 73-degree evening in Tennessee. The wind is blowing gently, sun shining clearly, birds singing sweetly and the sounds of families gathering at day’s end are floating on the air. I’ve put in a long and good day at work but find I cannot settle until I let some thoughts out into the light.

While home in New England recently, two things struck me deeply.

First, I was at the home I grew up in where my brother and his wife now reside and bring beauty to the old place. We sat out in the yard discussing all manner of things, some deep and some not so much. I was looking out over the ever-changing landscape and we started talking about  an old tree at the corner of the “back forty.” That tree used to be one of the corner anchors of our pasture where we stabled a couple horses. As I gazed on it, I noted a line about 4 feet off the ground, a dark and obvious scar of some kind that went completely around the side of the tree. I realized it was where my dad had wrapped the electric fence we used to keep the horses corralled. I commented on it to my brother and we also talked about how twisted the huge old tree trunk is. That tree has survived over a hundred years of New England weather and kids climbing her branches. She survived the hurricane of ’58. She withstood a recent tree-razing that has destroyed much of the property behind our old place. Yet, she still stands, maybe not as expansive as she once was, but still growing and giving shade.

It reminded of a some of my favorite trees.

I saw one in California that had so much character and beauty. Her bark fell off regularly, exposing her “skin,”  It was part of her growing. She grew tall and somewhat gnarly, but oh so beautiful.


One old girl I found on a foggy day smack dab in the middle of a public school parking lot. Age and weather and children had scarred her quite a bit, but her beauty was overwhelming to me.


And then there is one of my oldest and dearest twisted friends. She clings cliffside in Ogunquit, ME. I have spent unending hours in her shade, gazing at and listening to the ocean, pouring my heart and my eyes out to the Creator. I am amazed every time I see her at how her roots reach out through the air to cling to the rock that holds her.

These trees all have been shaped and moved and scarred and beautified by the very elements that could have destroyed them. I pondered this for quite a while that day.

The following afternoon I was trying to cram as many words as I could into my brief time with some dear friends, all the while trying to hear as many words as they could offer as we caught up with one another. Somewhere during the conversation, a comment was made about how our pasts don’t have to define us. And this was my immediate response:

“Our pasts do define us, but they don’t have to bind us.”

I realized, even as I said it, I had never really believed it before. I had let my past define AND bind me in so many ways.

As I’ve considered this truth over the last several days, all my favorite trees came back to mind. They are marked, scarred and twisted by all they have lived through.

So am I.

Yet, they put their roots down deeper, sometimes inexplicably, and chose to grow. Their limbs may not be straight, they may bear the visible marks of long-past trauma, but they still grow. They provide shelter and beauty and places for children (of all ages) to find joy.
I will be like these trees. I will let God who loves me shape me and use what was meant for evil to bring beauty. I will let my roots go deeper, even if it means they must struggle to get there. And I will bear the marks others have left on me just as Jesus bore the marks left on Him.

I will be like the trees.

“They are like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
(from the ancient text of the Old Testament as found in Jeremiah, 17:8)

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Getting Back Up.

Sometimes it’s hard to write.

Sometimes the words that flutter nearest the surface are not as true as what lies deep within.

Sometimes the darkness seems a little stronger than the light. Even when it’s not.

One of the values I hold dearest is being authentic. That doesn’t mean I say everything I am thinking. It means that I try to live my beliefs and be who I am, even when it’s hard.

And it has been hard. A lot of hard.

On the surface, all is well.
-I have an amazing new job with people I am beginning to love.
-I get time with my sister and her family and this brings me such joy.
-No snow to shovel this past winter
-Cute little apartment
-Warm climate
-I am well loved by so many amazing people.
-I am forgiven and being made new by the King of the Things.

But I stopped writing. I stopped writing because I think I stopped living a little and I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t want anyone to know I was sabotaging my own health journey. It has been easier to just hide at home than force myself to do all this newness alone. The more I stayed at home, the angrier I became that this was where I was in my life. 58 years old and alone. Coming home to an empty space. No money saved up to make my retirement possible. Ever. No kids or grandkids to love on and spoil. No hope of the seeing a long-held dream and promise come true. No one who really knows me without my having to give all the back story. There is such power and strength in being known.

And I realized, once again, that some very difficult, long ago experiences and choices still shred my heart on occasion. My loneliness and anger were fueled anew by long-simmering, ancient storehouses of pain and unforgiveness in my soul. Loneliness + anger + unforgiveness = Robin eating her heart out. Food becomes the friend that stills the voices of fear and longing that echo deep within me. Well, at least they are silenced for about five minutes or until I am done eating. Then I sleep. A lot. Instead of moving and finding the light.

So why am I writing this?

Many of you count on me for words. And many of you have prayed for my journey. Recently, I realized I was withholding until I could get myself back on track. Until today. Today there has been confession, and a few tears and struggle and honesty about the fact that I cannot do this alone and I am NOT alone. The God who has set me free will do that once again. I followed His leading to move here to Tennessee and I still know it was the right thing. And even as I type this, I am very aware that part of what He may have for me here is to truly learn to trust only in Him. That HE is the reason I am still alive. That God is not put off by my messy, lurching, stubborn journey. This place He has me is showing me that my worth and value is not dependent on being known by anyone but Him. And that even if I fail, even if I am faithless, He is faithful. And so I write.

I write to let my fellow strugglers know that sometimes the journey ain’t pretty.
I write to put a stake in the ground that says, “This far my God has brought me.”
I write to put a marker up that lets the next person know not to give up.
I write because words give me power to BE and to DO.
I write to remind myself I may feel defeated but my God is NOT defeated.
I write to speak out truth and break off lies.
I write so that those who wonder how they can make it another day will please choose to make it another day.

There is power and hope and healing and LIFE in the light of God. So today, I choose to write so that I can choose light.

I don’t write to gain comfort. I am finding that at the feet of Jesus.
I don’t write to get response. Otherwise I would put up something political (Come on, you smiled just a little)
I don’t write to gain sympathy or garner praise.
I write to be real.

I have gained back weight; weight I worked so hard to get rid of.
I have stopped working out much.
I watch a lot of TV.
I have given depression the upper hand.

I write to take it back and give God control once again.

And along with David, the Poet from the Ancient texts of the Bible, I say, “Why are you downcast, oh my soul, and why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (From Psalm 43:5, found in the middle of the ancient text called the Old Testament, in the Holy Bible.)

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Birthrights and Mother”less”hood.

403279_10150624262979513_1129092211_nMy stuff arrived.  About a week ago, all my worldly belongings arrived after a three-week trek across the eastern coast.  It has been in storage for a year, so opening each box has been a wee bit like Christmas morning surprises.  I find that my response to each thing is usually one of the following:

“WHY did I keep these?” (random fancy-shmancy drinking goblets)

“Oh, I am so happy to see this” (my favorite decorative, glass bowl still in one piece)

“WHERE am I going to put this?” (About half of each box I open!)

But last night?  Last night I found a plastic bin with an odd assortment of items I hadn’t seen in a while.  As I perused its contents, I realized this was a bin I had moved, unopened, from Texas to two different homes in New Hampshire and then on to Tennessee.  Tucked along one side of the bin was an innocuous manilla envelope.  It was addressed to me in my mom’s handwriting.  Neatly scripted across the closure were the words, “I cleaned out the cedar chest!”

My eyes got a little misty as I dumped out the contents.  Inside were all my old report cards, from the handwritten, elementary school ones, to the college transcripts printed on a dot matrix printer; my education all wrapped up in an envelope my mama had lovingly sent to me years ago.  I scanned each one, a smile playing across my face as I imagined my mom taking them from me each passing year.  Then the smile faded a little. A deep longing, an ache that had become as familiar as breathing raked across my heart.  I have never had the joy of reading my own child’s report card or holding their little hand as we crossed the street, or smelling the sweetness of their post-bath tiny selves.  There have been no children for me.  It is an ache that always throbs a little stronger this time of year.  Spring and mother’s day heighten my awareness of barrenness; mine and so many others.

As I let the feelings swirl over me once again, a smaller envelope fell out from among the report cards.  It was my birth certificate.

My. Birth. Certificate.

I had misplaced it long ago.  I had no idea where it had vanished to.  It has been missing for over twenty years.   It was a practical and timely discovery. I need it right now for some very mundane reasons – passports and driver’s licenses.  But as I opened the ancient document, I realized how deeply my soul was also in need of this birth record.  Gathered with the original document were my birth announcement and dedication booklet.  I sat there, tears streaming down my face as I looked at the tiny announcement card written by my mom.  My dedication pages contained Leon Smith’s name, my first pastor, and my parents first pastor.

I was born.  I was born into a family where I learned about Jesus and serving the “least of these.”  I was born into a family that always had its door open to all who needed to enter in.  I was born into laughter and love and sarcasm and joy and struggle and wonder and conflict and challenge.  I needed to be reminded.  Right now.  In familiar handwriting. I needed to be reminded that my parents celebrated my birth.  Unlike the rest of my siblings, I have never brought my spouse or my children to the family table.  There are so many reasons this has been true.  Some of the reasons are ordained moments in my life and some of them are the stuff of nightmares.  My single-childlessness , the empty arms I feel every day, was born of equal parts beauty and brokenness.  Seeing my mama’s handwriting about her third-born child, me, was also a deep reminder that I can no longer hug on my own mom.  She has been gone almost eight years now.

Mother’s Day.  The Mother of all days for some of us.  I sat there lost in the breathing and the pain.

Then God.  He quietly and gently brought things to my heart and mind that are good and right.  Things I can think on.  Stuff of heaven.  I have never birthed a child, but I have been given countless opportunities to mother children.  It is a sacred privilege to speak truth and love into the life of a child.  It is a joy to listen to a child’s hopes and dreams.  I have never known a husband, but I have been loved, deeply, by my family and some dear, authentic friends who minister life to me. I am well-loved.

I have a birthright.  And although my hopes and dreams of having children and grand-littles never saw the light of day, and there is no one by my side to grow old(er) with, there is life all around me to be lived and the “least of these” to be loved on and God who whispers hope and contentment to me if I will only listen.

So, this Mother’s day, please look around you and see who may be breathing pain.  See who may need you to acknowledge the grief of a lost mother, or the grief of no children, or maybe even the deep grief of a broken mother-child relationship.  Offer someone your heart a little and what hope you have.

And, this Mother’s Day, here is my prayer for you.

If you can, if at all possible, I pray you can hug your own mama, touch her face and look into her eyes.

If your mom has left this life already, I pray someone will hug you and that you can find joy in the remembering.

If  you and your mother are at odds or she has hurt you deeply, I pray forgiveness over you, for you and for her.  And I pray one day you will be able to hug her once again.

If you are a mother and your children are near, I pray you can hug their necks.

If your child has been taken from you far too soon, I pray an overwhelming sense of God’s peace and comfort that goes beyond your understanding.  And I pray someone will reach out and hug you.  And I pray you will find strength to be someone’s hug this Mother’s Day.

And if, like me, you have never birthed your own children or been given the privilege of adoption, I pray your heart will let itself love those around you and that this present love will far outweigh the loss of your empty arms.

For you see, we all have a birthright.  We have the right be loved and to love.  I am well beyond my child-bearing years, but I am smack-dab in the middle of my child-loving years.  So this Mother’s Day, don’t hunker down.  Don’t draw in.  Remember.  Breath the pain.  And reach out to those around you.

Lastly, a special thank you to my family and dear friends who have given me the privilege of loving on your children. It is my absolute joy.

“Sing, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
    you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord.”  Isaiah 54:1

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A New Normal

Eleven months ago, I was laid off from my job of ten years.

Eight months ago, I moved out of the home I loved.

Right after that, I entered a Wellness program for five weeks, living in the home of a dear friend.

Seven months ago, I moved into one of my old apartments and lived with another friend for two months.

Six months ago, the church where I was associate pastor bought a church building, something we had prayed for for ten years. I spent a LOT of the next eight weeks painting…and painting.

Five months ago, God confirmed that He was calling me to Nashville to live near and invest in my sister’s family.

Two months ago, I left my church family, my northern family and some of my dearest friends and moved to Nashville. On the way, I spent a few days visiting friends, attending another week at the Wellness program, and then on to Nashville.

The day after I arrived in Nashville, I interviewed for a job with an amazing company and started working there six days later.

I have slept in at least 17 different beds since May 1, 2016.

Everything I own is in my car or a storage unit 1000 miles away.

My persons, my parents’ graves, my New England and my church family are also 1000 miles away.

I have grieved the loss of those I have left behind.

I have embraced working HARD and full time again.

I have slept in yet another bed, albeit a very comfy one.

I put makeup on every day.

I have a new norm. I am learning new faces, names and hearts.

I am daily able to see and love on my sister and brother-in-law and niece and nephew even when they don’t want me to.

I am learning to trust God with the new and weird and different.

Not having had a place to call home for the last year has become normal. Having my deepest confidants and so much of my family far, far away is becoming normal.

Working full time again is a joy. I am grateful.

Seeing God confirm the call I heard by giving me a job so perfectly and so quickly is amazing.

My new norm?

I wake every morning in a new state, surrounded by people I love. As hard as it was to leave, this new norm is delightful.

I go to a job that is such a perfect fit for me, I am humbled.

I haven’t shoveled any snow this winter. None. Zilch.

There is a whole new world of photography for me to dabble in. The naked trees of winter here are exquisite.

Spring will be amazing.

I live where music thrives.

My heart must learn to love well from a distance; how to intentionally keep those precious New Englanders a part of me.

And I need to learn to let others in, not fearing the letting go that may come again someday.

New norms can be scary. But they are such an adventure. And if we let Him, God offers new mercy every morning to embrace us and the weird newness.

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Exhaling.

I hold my breath when I am in pain.

Several years ago, I fell while x-country skiing and tore my ACL. All the way to the hospital, my friend had to continuously remind me to breathe.

“Breathe, Robin. Breathe.”

A few years back I broke my tibia. I had to keep saying the same words to myself in the ambulance and the ER.

“Breathe, Robin. Breathe.”

When my mom died, it felt like I didn’t breathe for weeks, until God gave me some words of comfort.

Ten days ago, I said goodbye to family and friends in the Northeast as I start my next adventure in Nashville. Sixteen years of amazing church family, an ever-expanding, extended family (we make the cutest and smartest littles) and some friends who are so much a part of my heart I feel a tad shredded leaving them.

Yesterday, while swimming in the amazing salt water pool at Duke Diet and Fitness Center, I made myself work out for two hours instead of one.  I love that pool and that water so this was no sacrifice for me.  As I pushed past the weariness that threatened to stop me sometime during hour two, I started to weep.  And exhale. And breathe once again.  I was in pain. The sort of pain that leaves you breathless and raw. I was excited to start my next adventure with my southern family, but I was overwhelmed by the very real grief of leaving so many of my tribe, my people, my persons.

“Breathe, Robin. Breathe.”

I had been breathing oh-so-shallowly for weeks. Weeks of transition for me and so many others around me.  Months of change.

Job loss.

Loss of my favorite living space.

Loss of the role of associate pastor, my heart-love.

Watching some of my dearest persons lose jobs, homes and dreams.

Still, I have not lost hope or trust in the God who is leading me. As I felt myself finally taking deep, long breaths, the “damn dam” broke One of my persons and I have this understanding that we each have an internal dam that holds back our emotions when they are too much to bear. Maybe it’s Jesus holding onto them for us until He thinks we need to feel them.  Maybe its how God designed us. Either way, eventually the dam gives way and all the emotion floods our souls. I am grateful to feel it all, but it can overcome me a bit. So I continued doing my laps, slowly; breathing deeply; letting the tears flow.

It was then that I realized how often I forget to truly breathe.  When I am hurting, breathing seems counterintuitive.  So I hold my breathe, or at very most, take shallow breaths.

If I breathe, it will hurt more.

If I breathe, something will shift and more pain will come.

If I breathe, all the surreal of injury and grief will become real.

If I breathe, I will have to move into the pain of healing.

If I breathe, the damn dam will open.

Still…

When I breathe, life rushes back into my soul and my body.

When I breathe deeply, pain and injury heal faster.

When I breathe deeply, I expand to hold all the forces of grief and joy that come with loss and life.

When I breathe, Light comes, Joy begins, peace follows.

“Breathe, Robin. Breathe.”  Deep, long and often.  It is well with my soul.

Maybe you, too, need a reminder to breathe.  I think our entire nation does.  I think we have been collectively holding our breath for weeks now, before and following “The Election.”

Breathe, America, breathe. Deeply.

Breathe, friend, breathe.  Deeply.

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Breaking the Silence – A Tribute to BLB

I have been silent for weeks now. No words written. Thousands of thoughts and feelings and words rolling through my soul, but most haven’t made it to the outside of me. Yet. Maybe I don’t want to commit them to reality. Maybe the words are just passing through. Maybe there are things I am only meant to feel, not share. And maybe some of them are simply too hard, too heavy, not quite ready for release.

Today, though, this day I will write. Today I dedicate this blog space to my B.L.B. (Big Little Brother) This is the moniker I gave to a dear friend of mine years ago. He is several years my junior, but has the wisdom of a sage and has cared for me like an elder brother. So this is my Happy Birthday post to him. This is my thank you for his words.

Thank you BLB, for the man you have been, the man you are and the man you are becoming.

Thank you for tires. The ones we talk about, at length, and the ones you surprised me with when you “cleaned” my car.

Thank you for loving food like you do and letting me be your GPS and ZAGAT on occasion!

I am grateful to you for so many things. Maple Sugar Liquor. Hours of NFL. Letting me help with roofing the tree house. Weeks of basement dwelling when the ice storm took out my home. Coffee cups on the very top shelf of the tall people. Little hikes. Imprompt drives with you and LS just to watch my odometer turn 100,000 miles. Sharing your very-special-occasion bottle of Port and toasting my dad together. Thanks for telling me about the “extra” day we wish we could have when needed. Thank you for remembering me on Mother’s Day, even though I am technically childless. I am grateful for all of it.

Most importantly, thank you for your words.

Your words have brought me life.

“Why can’t you be the senior pastor?,” you asked.

Or

“I think it was more about how much you connect with their hearts, your story, their stories, and how it was actually said… I think Robin is the closest thing to Jesus that we have seen here on Earth… for me it was cool confirmation of who you are, and what you are doing and the impact you are having for Him…”

and then there was

“I don’t really think you are afraid of this. I think you used to be afraid in this situation so you are falling back into the old known reaction. But I don’t really think you are afraid. Let it go.”

And the most life-changing

“Maybe you could use this downtime, while you are out of work, to pursue your goal of getting healthy once again.”

There were so many great words. Wise words. Funny words. Words to remind me I am worth fighting for.  And worth taking care of. Raw, honest, deep words about who you are and who God is and who I am. You are one of the few people I can discuss the big questions with and still walk away feeling loved.

So here is to your day. Here’s to dragons and dreams, to being family by choice, to years of football games and healthy food. Here’s to having courage to go after our passions even while still wondering if we have what it takes. Here’s to more words. Good words. Life words. The pursuit of connection to God and people.

Here’s to you, BLB. I am ever so grateful that I am no longer of afraid of you. You are just the right mix of jerk seasoning and humility. So happy, blessed amazing birthday. And thank you for all your words. Every single one of them.

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W15Win (week 15 weigh in)

Down 4 more pounds for a total of 39 since May 23; 45 total.  So grateful for the amazing cheering section I have in this journey; people who will walk my pace, who pray for me and who are making their own healthy choices.  Moving has become joy for me.  Thanks God.

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